Mahayogeshvara Sri Krishna and Arjuna
by Swami Krishnananda

In my discourse on the context of the power of Mahayogesvara Sri Krishna being necessarily associated with the performances of the ambidextrous Arjuna, it becomes necessary for us to delve into the nature of the involvement of yoga in the life of people and in everything else. A peculiar self-exceeding impulse predominant in everything is taking place in this world—a tendency of anyone and anything to overcome oneself, to grow and move onward or forward, to become more mature than what one is in the present moment.

The challenges of time, the movements of history, the comedies and tragedies of human life, the processes of evolution—natural, social and personal—all seem to be characterised by this propulsion to exceed what is already there, and touch upon and become what is ahead. The march of history is just the succession of this continuous operative tendency in nature to compel a self-transcendence of events in the events to come, so that life never remains a static experience but is an adventurous march onward, which feature can be explained only by the acceptance of there being a principle called self-transcendence. Every action, every thought, every aspiration, every event—everything that takes place anywhere, inwardly or outwardly—has this associated feature, whose secret action is mostly obliterated from the vision of the process which it impels, so that the process becomes conscious of itself as a process and becomes totally unconscious of the reason why this process is at all.

We, as human individuals, grow from childhood to adulthood. This is a process which is observable with our own eyes, but we cannot visualise why this growth has to be there at all. Why should there be a change of one thing into another? Where is the necessity to work, accepting that work is imperative in life? Here is the invisible operator Krishna standing behind the active performer, Arjuna. One is doing everything and yet appearing to be doing nothing, while the other is appearing to be doing everything and yet actually doing nothing. The difference between Krishna and Arjuna is that in one case there is all action, but no one can notice it, and in the other case there is no action really, but it appears to be all action concentrated in that particular individual.

The proclamation of Sanjaya, as recorded for us in the last verse of the Bhagavadgita, is that prosperity, success and anything that is magnificent is assured where Mahayogeshvara Sri Krishna is coupled with the active Arjuna. In this statement of Sanjaya, we have a wealth of meaning that would unravel many a mystery not only of outward public life but also the mysteries of an inward movement of the spirit towards God. Yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo yatra pārtho dhanur-dharaḥ (Gita 18.78). Where is the necessity of the bringing together these two features? The world of action cannot be explained unless it is interpreted as an event that takes place by a combined effort of two powers, one which eternally subsists as the background of all movements in life, the other being only the performance which is phenomenal. Is it possible for Arjuna to work without Sri Krishna’s aid? Is it necessary for Sri Krishna to have Arjuna with him? Can these two questions be answered?

Certain requirements in this world of activity need this combination of the normal and the supernormal—the noumenal and the phenomenal, as they are usually known. It is not possible for the isolated individual to lift even a finger without the cooperation that it has to receive from the Universal, which it cannot see with its eyes. In daily life, we have an interesting observation in our own selves: the intake of a meal. It is true that we do this act of eating. We take hold of the item of our diet and place it in our mouth. This much is our action. But eating is not merely the placing of a morsel in the mouth. Certain super-individual powers have to act at the same time, which are beyond the control and knowledge of the individual. The digestive process is not under the control of the person who eats food. It is an impulsion that is not merely physiologically oriented or capable of explanation only anatomically. There is a universal operation even in this simple digestive process. Ahaṁ vaiśvānaro bhūtvā prāṇimāṁ deham aśritaḥ, prāṇāpāna-samāyuktaḥ pacāmy annaṁ catur-vidham (Gita 15.14). The digestion is the work of God Himself. The respiratory process, the circulatory action, and everything that we can think of as our operative structure, is not the effect of an individual motivation. It is an automatic performance of a non-individual, and therefore, invisible, supernormal nature.

The association of Mahayogeshvara Sri Krishna with Arjuna becomes an absolute necessity under the circumstance of it being necessary to act at all, because while action, or the occurrence of any event in this world, needs the process called movement in space and time in the direction of a target held before oneself, there is a greater truth behind this great truth—namely, that while movement is the observed character of things, it should be possible at all for anything to move. We say nature evolves, but where is the pull or the push that causes this evolution of nature? The evolution is Arjuna; the reason behind this evolution is Krishna. We can have some idea as to how Sri Krishna’s collaboration with Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita is also a great cosmic truth of it being it necessary for the Supreme Universal to be permanently associated with all that is individual or historical.

In this light, yoga becomes a universal occurrence, a perpetual action taking place beyond the realm of human sight. Perpetual was the work of Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata war, though there was apparently no action from his side. Do we observe anything taking place within us when the food that we eat is digested? We take it for granted. But how does it happen? Where are the causative factors of this action of digestion? The action of the muscles, the secretion of the requisite juices, may be considered the action involved in digestion. But how could this action take place? How could any action or movement be there at all? That cannot be attributed to any part of the physical body. The very existence of our personality as a living entity can be accounted for only on the assumption of there being something which is not a human personality. A super-personal power, invisible to everyone’s eyes, causes the meaning attached to individual personality. The greatest of all doers does not require to be proclaimed. The proclamation of the glory of the action goes to the visible personality.

We say that Arjuna and the Pandavas won the war. It is well known that Sri Krishna was not a combatant and, therefore, we cannot say it was Sri Krishna who won the war. Though we never say that, we hesitate not to accept it. The Pandavas won victory; the Kauravas were defeated. Where comes Sri Krishna here? He had no role to play. But he had the entire role to play, and there was nobody else who did anything.

The association of yoga in daily life is, similarly, the association of an imperative requirement in our life with the demands of ordinary duty, and an unconsciousness of the existence of this supernormal association would nullify the value of all action. If Arjuna were not to be conscious of there being such a thing as Sri Krishna behind him, he would not be a righteous warrior; he would not be a living entity at all. Yoga is not a question of today or tomorrow, in the sense that Sri Krishna’s aid to Arjuna was not a requirement of now or afterwards; it was an eternal requirement. Sleeplessly, winklessly, the aid arose and came out from Sri Krishna, unknown to Arjuna himself. Unknown to the performer of any work in this world, yoga enters into it and transforms work into yoga. Work becomes worship. A yogi, therefore, is a person who would be in a position to place himself in the very context of that grand association of Sri Krishna with Arjuna—the Universal impulsion with an active, adventurous spirit.

We are human beings, and are also students and practitioners of yoga. What distinguishes us as students of yoga from ordinary performers of duty in the world? The distinction is in our capacity to consciously and willingly induct into our daily duties this vital universal element in us which is perpetually goading us forward. “I shall do this work tomorrow,” is a statement of a single person. This ‘tomorrow’ will not be there at all unless there is a timeless operation taking place in the otherwise so-called work of time, which is the action of tomorrow, because time is a process consisting of a kind of succession of bits, and many bits put together cannot make a continuity. The pieces of the time process can assume a living value only when there is a timeless element operating behind the time process.

We are sure that tomorrow we shall be alive. This surety is actually an unfounded hope, because logically we cannot explain how it could be possible for us to be sure that we shall be alive tomorrow. Contrary to logic, opposed to all mathematical calculation and impossible to explain, we affirm that tomorrow we shall be alive, and the work that is pending today, we shall be able to complete tomorrow. Where is the assurance? From where has this assurance come? It defies all known logic because there is no guarantee given anywhere that tomorrow shall be there. A non-temporal element in us assures us that we shall be there tomorrow also. That which is involved in time, which is this physically-oriented personality of ours, cannot account for this hope we entertain that tomorrow we shall be there.

We live in two worlds at the same time—the temporal and the eternal. We are mortal and immortal at the same time. We are bound by time, and yet we are free as eternals. The eternity aspect in us is the character of the yoga that we are expected to perform, and we are yogis in proportion to our ability to introduce the timeless factor in us. To the extent to which we are able to imbibe the eternal principles in us, to that extent we are yogis. If this element is absent in us, if we are only workers, performers of action, we would not be yogis, because yoga is not activity. Every activity has an element of yoga behind it and, in the end, no one can be totally barred from entry into yoga. Every living being is an incipient yogin—incipient in the sense that the living being is not aware of the fact that an eternal existence is supporting this otherwise-mortal frame and keeps it continuing for a period of time until its demands are fulfilled.

Every action can be converted into yoga. Action in the battlefield is also yoga. The worst of things is war, and that became the occasion for the delivery of the greatest of gospels, the message of eternity. It is the intention of the Gita gospel to tag on the lowest impulses of ordinary action in life to the highest cause of the immortal in man. The weaknesses of the human flesh, including the frail emotions of a pusillanimous, ordinary person, characterised Arjuna’s personality. But such a weakling that Arjuna could be was made to stand up before all men as a stalwart example of righteousness and wisdom because of this injection of the eternal values that Sri Krishna imparted to Arjuna’s psychophysical, mortal frame.

Inasmuch as everything is in a state of yoga, the whole Earth is meditating, as it were, says the Upanishad. The stability of the Earth, the methodology of the seasons occurring in proper time, the great system behind sunrise and sunset, the astronomically perfect movement of the stellar organisations, the meaning that we see in life which is otherwise meaningless, is the yoga thereof. The world is in a state of yoga, is what the Chhandogya Upanishad says. The five elements are contemplating, and are absorbed in themselves. Absorption in one’s own self is yoga. The earth and the other elements are absorbed in the performance of their own duties.

This is to signify that system and method are there, and everything is nothing but the centralising of this consciousness in nothing but one’s own self, excluding no relationship therein which one may have with anything else in this world. This last condition is to be taken note of carefully. The satisfaction that one has in one’s own self, the senses arrayed before us in this external world, is a self-annihilation of one kind because the more are we conscious of another, the less are we conscious of ourselves, so that in our entire consciousness being centred in something else which is totally attracting and absorbing, the death of our own self simultaneously and automatically occurs in the act of immersion of our consciousness in another. This is the extreme to which extroversion can go. While this is, of course, totally opposed to yoga, the other side, which is the absorption of oneself in the psychic introversion, is also not yoga.

Yoga is union. It is a togetherness of the grasp of our consciousness in which a kind of selfhood is maintained in a most interesting and striking manner, not excluding oneself in the contemplation of objects, and also not excluding objects by being too much occupied with oneself. Yoga is not the selfish occupation of a private individual, and it is not renunciation of the world. It is the absorption of the world into one’s own consciousness. The world melts into liquid, as it were, in this contemplation of the true self—which contemplation alone can be called yoga—and at once all activity also gets associated with it because of our being careful in not excluding the world from our contemplation of consciousness.

The universality that is involved here is what is very important. That is the importance of Bhagavan Sri Krishna’s presence in the Mahabharata war. He was the Universal; Arjuna was the particular. All people in that vast arena of the Mahabharata war were particulars, but they were within the bosom of this Eternal apparently seated in the chariot of Arjuna. Doing nothing, having done nothing, wanting not at all to do anything, here is the statement coming from that so-called non-active individual that he has already done everything that is required to be done. In what sense is he saying this? Not in the sense of a person sitting in the chariot, but in the sense of another thing of which he is capable, namely, his particularity as Sri Krishna who was the non-individual Vishvarupa-tattva. The otherwise friend of Arjuna, the Yadava chief, the heroic warrior, was also the repository of a non-individual potentiality, which he manifested as a reality when the Cosmic Form revealed itself.

Yoga practice is a gradual, stage-by-stage actualisation of this potential for the Universal in us, and to the extent we are able to bring this potentiality of the Universal in us into action in daily life, we not only live a life of yoga, but our work also becomes yoga. All lengthy reading of the Gita will not convince us finally as to how work is meditation.

We may be having some doubt: “The Gita has said it, maybe, but I cannot understand how yoga can be my little sweeping of the floor, cleaning of a utensil, or cutting the wood.” We cannot convince ourselves, and it will never be possible for us to assure ourselves that such earthy, gross, day-to-day impulsions to act can be yoga at all. Modern scientists say events do not take place in space. Where else do they take place? If events in the world do not take place in space, where else do they take place? What is your answer to this question? Events take place in space, but scientists say events do not take place in space. Events take place in a non-spatial context—that is, in a non-temporal field, the seed for temporal action is sown. It is said that marriages and wars first take place in heaven, and then they descend to the Earth. These are some of the observations of philosophers such as Plato, etc. Even a sickness does not originate merely in the physical body. It is deeper than the physical body. We are sick in the anandamaya kosha itself, and then this illness manifests itself gradually into the buddhimaya, manomaya, indriyamaya sarira; then we begin to feel the ache in the physical body. Though the ache is in the physical body, the illness is deeper than the flesh and the bones. We are sick in our very roots.

Likewise, actions have a root, events have an origin, anything and everything has a beginning and causation in a realm that does not belong to this world. The Mahabharata was won by Sri Krishna in this sense. It never took place in Kurukshetra; it took place in all space and all time. It is in only in this sense that we can understand the meaning of the Vishvarupa saying, “I have done everything.” The ‘I’ that has done everything is not a spatial and temporal being. Modern physics tells us something equivalent to the implication that we can draw from this mastermind telling us, “I have already done a thing which has not yet taken place.” The war has not yet taken place, and even before that he says he has already done it. The future has become the present; time has vanished completely before eternity.

These are the wonders that lie hidden beneath our aspirations that are spiritual, religious and yogic. If we are oblivious of this factor being there within us, around us and in everything, we will be in dread perpetually in this world. Even the movement of a leaf will cause us fear, and we will not have peace of mind for even a single second in this world. But the backing of a person like Sri Krishna gives us all strength. Arjuna never felt that he would die. Though death can take place in war, he would not die. He knew it, because here was a person who would see that he would not die.

Yoga gives us a strength which shall protect us like a mother. The yoga shastra tells us that yoga loves us more than a hundred mothers, as Sri Krishna loved Arjuna more than his own mother loved him. “Accepting, realising and knowing that I am the friend of all beings, you shall attain peace.” Have you seen a friend of all beings anywhere? Have you seen a friend anywhere upon whom you can rely at all times, for all purposes? There is no such friend in this world. But here is a friend—that is the Mahayogesvara Sri Krishna, which is the eternal support that is at our beck and call from moment to moment, which is not only within us, but also around us.

The stationing of ourselves in this inner visualisation of the presence of that non-individual power will make us worthy individuals in this world. The non-individual Krishna alone can give meaning and significance to the individual Arjuna. Let the individuality of Arjuna be there, but it has no meaning. Arjuna is a corpse as an individual if the living being that is not an individual, which is Sri Krishna, is not there. After the ascension of Sri Krishna, Arjuna became a lifeless puppet, and he could not lift even a stick. The person who could break hills and threaten Devas was not able to bend his back and lift a stick when it became necessary for him.

It is yoga that gives strength to us. Strength does not come from adulation from society, name, fame and authority. Strength does not come from wealth or from the food that we eat physically. It comes from yoga that is ours. It comes from yoga that is not merely ours, but is what we ourselves are. Let Arjuna forget the presence of Sri Krishna—what would happen? This is exactly what has happened to mankind today. In the arrogance of physical power and the false, vainglorious assurance of strength in money and material amenities, the Arjuna that is today’s mankind has forgotten the very existence of that otherwise-real friend, the unknown Sri Krishna who is pervading all places.

Mahayogesvara Sri Krishna gave meaning, significance and life to Arjuna’s action and to his very existence. This Universal, the consciousness of which is called yoga, shall protect us; and eternally Sri Krishna is with Arjuna. Just as Nara-Narayana are eternal twins and are always there as inseparables, God and man are eternal inseparables, and yoga and action are similarly inseparable.