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The Spiritual Import of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavadgita
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: In Harmony with the Whole Universe

The Bhagavadgita is in eighteen chapters, and the first six chapters devote themselves to an exposition of the various methods of the integration of personality, the bringing together of the various parts of oneself into a concentration, and the transforming of oneself into a complete being rather than a dissipated individuality. We are not whole beings even now. We are psychological wrecks, distracted to the core, ruined in nerves and muscles and drooping in our psychic spirit. We are like a river that is rushing in various directions in the form of rivulets and streams, dashing against various objects and things of the world and thus losing ourselves in the dreary desert or the wilderness of this complicated existence called human life. None of us can be regarded as a whole personality in the true sense of the term, and that is why we are restless and never find peace of mind even for a few minutes continuously. We are agitated every moment of time, and even a wisp of wind can disturb our peace.

All this has been taken into consideration by the great Teacher of the Bhagavadgita. The great Master who propounds this gospel entirely devotes His attention in the first six chapters of the teachings to the techniques of individual integration. From the first chapter until we reach the sixth, which forms one-third of the whole work, we have a graduated teaching, imparted in a systematic manner, for the purpose of bringing into the conscious level the submerged layers of our personality—the emotions, the sentiments, the personal and racial prejudices, whatever it is. There are various kinds of complexes, and adepts in psychology tell us there are personal complexes which get accentuated by cultural complexes, the collective unconscious—whatever the name we give to it. All these are our problem; they are our sorrows, and these sorrows, when they are considered as an ocean inundating us from all sides, are called by the name of samsara.

Now Bhagavan Sri Krishna, the great Teacher of this gospel, taking Arjuna as a specimen of human individuality, gives an eternal gospel for all mankind, for all times, applicable to all conditions of life. In an outline of these teachings from the first chapter onwards until the sixth, we have probed into this a little. The sixth chapter, which sums up this teaching of concentration of the individual for a higher purpose by means of dhyana or meditation, concludes by saying that the aim of this concentrated, integrated person is the visualisation of the great reality in all things. Sarva-bhuta-stham atmanam sarva-bhutani catmani, iksate yoga-yukta-atma sarvatra sama-darsanah. Everything is seen everywhere—that is the great vision towards which we are moving. With this solacing as well as cautious admonition towards the end of the sixth chapter, we are lifted further up into a wider vision of things and introduced to a new vista of life in its depths, not visible outwardly on the surface.

The Teacher tells us, at the commencement of the seventh chapter, that the integration of the personality is not the goal of life. It is the goal as far as our empirical life is concerned; it is a great purpose and a great achievement indeed, but it is an achievement for the purpose of another higher achievement, so that there are layers and layers of ascent from the lower to the higher. The various dissipated energies are collected by way of focusing and concentration in the process of the integration of personality. It is true that by this process we become wholesome individuals, perfectly sane, bright with understanding and reason, humane and very healthy in every sense of the term. Yes, but for what purpose is this achievement of humaneness, total humanity, utter goodness and great charitable feeling? What is the intention behind it? The intention is still further on, and it is not enough if we are merely tuned up in our path to the togetherness of our personality. This concentrated togetherness of ours has to be further tuned up to a larger dimension. The world, the universe, the whole creation is before us. We have to be united not only within ourselves, but also we have to be united further in the direction of our harmony that is to be established with the universe of creation.

This is the subject of the next six chapters, which takes us by surprise, chapter by chapter. We are introduced into greater and greater profundities—truths which are unthinkable, surprising and stirring. To such wonders as these we are introduced, gradually, from the seventh chapter. The great Master tells us, at the commencement of the seventh chapter, that this is not an ordinary job. This is not a practicable affair for the ordinary man of straw, as we call him, or the man on the street, the commercial man, the give-and-take man, the profiteering man, the black-marketing man, the selfish man, the animal man—for him, this is not intended. This is intended for the free man who has left the heritage of his lower status, the vegetable and the animal layers, and becomes really a saint. It is only a truly human that can be regarded as fit for the art of uniting the self with the divine; it is not the animal that suddenly becomes divine. It has to pass through the saint, and each one of us can know to what extent we are saints.

Now, difficult is this path, hard is this task. “The razor's edge is this,” says the Upanishads. Among millions of people, one may strive to reach perfection in this manner—manushyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye. How many millions of people are there in the world? And how many are interested in thinking of and attempting to rise above the human level to the diviner realm of experience? Millions are there, but among millions, a mere handful will be really aspiring wholeheartedly, from the bottom of their souls, for perfection. Not merely this, there is a greater diminishment of this percentage. Even among those few souls who are honestly striving for perfection, a very small percentage will really succeed. Most of them will fail on account of the retardation of their attempt by the powers that have been ignored due to the neglect of certain types of personalities, social and individual combined. Certain errors have been committed while encountering the various limits of our body in the assessment of the values of our individuality. We have ignored certain layers of our personalities as if they were unwanted children; we have cast them away, and they are the obstacles. They stand in ambush, jump on us with gorilla warfare and attack us—these are the retarding forces.

So even among those who are really, honestly striving, many may have committed the mistake of not being comprehensive in their approach. Despite their sincerity and enthusiasm, a little error might have crept in. They may have jumped too far, etc. Endless are the reasons that can be given. The reason for this difficulty may be due to some cause from a previous birth or to some other equally obscure reason. Various reasons are there because of these complicated atmospheres in which one finds oneself. So even among the sincerely aspiring souls for perfection, very few will really succeed. Yatatam api siddhanam kascin mam vetti tattvatah: God can be known in reality and truth only by very few. We have only concocted gods in our minds—we have a Hindu God, a Christian God, a Hebrew God, and so on. We have created God; we have manufactured God for our own purposes. These 'Gods' can help us to some extent, but ultimately they will leave us in the lurch because they have been manufactured by us; they are our instruments, an effect produced by us. So while our instruments are helpful to us up to a certain limit and measure, they cannot take us to the ultimate aspired goal. In reality, very few can know what to do.

With this very interesting and necessary introductory remark, the great Master proceeds to expound His thesis in the seventh chapter, where we are lifted up from the individual realm of the first six chapters to the universal level of creation and the relationship of the creation to the Creator. We have always a necessity to admit the existence of a Creator, on account of our perceiving such a thing called creation. The Teacher of the Bhagavadgita is a tremendous psychologist. Even a hundred Socrates put together cannot equal this Teacher, so clever in understanding the difficulties of the teaching and the thought of the individual that receives them. The best teacher is that individual or person who starts from the level of the student, and not from his own standpoint. When the teacher speaks, he does not speak what he knows—he speaks what the student needs. That is the proper teacher. Otherwise he vomits what he knows and does not help the students. So the great Teacher of the Bhagavadgita is a master of psychology, and He knows what is to be told at a particular given moment of time. He takes the student step by step, by the hand, from the level of the student's understanding, and not from the topmost level of the teacher's experience or realisation.

So, what is our level? It is taken for granted that we have become perfectly human beings, and conceding that we have undergone the training that is required of us in the first six chapters, what is our understanding of the world? It is a simple answer: we see a world outside ourselves, and we are obliged to ask for a Creator of this world. Every scripture speaks of creation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” says the Bible. The Vedas, Upanishads, and other scriptures tell us that creation is the miraculous performance of God the Creator. Now, our mind is made in such a manner that it can accept truth only in a certain way and not in certain other ways. Our minds are conditioned to certain ways of thinking and understanding, and the knowledge that is to be given to us has to be cast into the mould of these manners of thinking into which we are born. So we have a mould, and everything has to be cast in that mould. Whatever we know is of the character and shape of that mould of our mind and reason.

What is this mould? The mould is there as a world, and there is no doubt about it. Who can deny that there is a world? No one; so that is one mould. We are cast into the mould of accepting, without any argument, that the world exists. And so many other corollaries of mould follow from this central mould of the acceptance of the fact that there is a world outside. If a world is there, it must have been created—it follows. It could not have suddenly jumped in from nowhere. Why should there be a Creator? Why should we accept that the world should have a Creator? Because of the fact that we have a certain mould of thinking that everything has a cause. We are accustomed to the observation of effects proceeding from causes. Everybody has come from somewhere; everything comes from something. We never see something suddenly popping up out of nowhere. Such a thing is unthinkable. Everything has to come from something, and not something coming from nothing—such thinking is illogical. So our trait of logicality can again require us to demand a cause for an effect, inasmuch as the world has come and it exhibits characteristics of transformation. Everything changes in the world, that is what is called evolution. Because of the transient and evolutionary character of things in the world, we have to logically require, call for a cause thereof—an ultimate cause, not merely an immediate cause.

There are many immediate causes. Hydrogen, when combined with oxygen in a certain proportion makes water, but while hydrogen and oxygen are the immediate causes of water, they are not the ultimate causes, because a question be asked as to the cause of hydrogen, and so on. In the same way, we require an ultimate cause, beyond which we cannot think. A causeless cause has to be demanded—that is what we call the Creator. It is a cosmological argument, as we call it in philosophy. For this there is a Creator, and if the Creator is not to be there, we cannot explain this world. Inasmuch as an explanation is necessary, and the mind cannot be quiet without receiving a logical answer to this question of the creation of the world, the Creator has to be accepted. So the Teacher of the Bhagavadgita, who has taken this stand for the psychology of the student, says the world consists of five elements. Bhumir apo'nalo vayuh kham mano buddhir eva ca, ahanakra itiyam me bhinna prakrtir astadha. Apareyam itas tv anyam prakrtim viddhi me param, jiva-bhutam maha-baho yayedam dharyate jagat. Earth, water, fire, air and ether—these are the five gross elements which constitute the physical universe. Beyond these five elements there is the psychic or the intellectual universe, corresponding to the mind, intellect and ego of the individual—manas, buddhi, and ahamkara—mind, intellect and ego. These constitute the eightfold lower field called aparaprakriti, the lower matrix of things. It is called lower because it is subject to transformation. All the five elements change, and so do the mind, intellect and ego—they are all subject to transformation at different moments of time.

But there is a higher prakriti, beyond the phenomenal, transient, changing forms of the lower prakriti. Apareyam itas tv anyam prakrtim viddhi me param: “By My own force of an all-including comprehensiveness and of My integrated Being of universal character, I sustain the lower prakriti as the whole universe.” Everything has come from these forces. Etad yonini bhutani sarvanity upadharaya: “Whatever you see in this world anywhere, in all directions, are modifications, combinations, permutations of these eight things mentioned, or particularly speaking, only five things—earth, water, fire, air and ether. There is nothing but this.”

Aham krtsnasya jagatah prabhavah pralayas tatha: God is the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer of all things. This is a great subject in theology, whether it is Hindu theology or Christian theology, whatever it is. The great relationship of the universe to the Creator and the attribution to the Creator of the great functions of creation, preservation and dissolution are great interesting subjects in theological studies. God is all things—Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. These are the usual attributes that we assign to the supreme Creator of the universe. What are the characteristics of God? They are creation, preservation, destruction. Now these are the primary attributes, together with the great attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. God creates, God preserves and God destroys. But this theological concept of God being the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer has many subtle implications which have created the huge science of theology, which also creates the subtle differences in theological doctrines of the various religions of the world. If we read the theological dogmas of various religions, we will find they differ, one from the other. Every religion describes the process of creation in a peculiar manner of its own.

Why are there these differences in the theological doctrines of creation? The reason is the variegated concepts of the relationship of the universe to the Creator. We have our own ideas about the relationship of the creation to the Creator, and these variations in the concept are the products of the various theological precepts. What are these implications that have given rise to these differences? The implications are very subtle, very deep and difficult to probe into. How God is related to this world is a question that cannot easily be answered. A child's concept of God's relation to the world is simple, and we are also thinking in a child-like manner. We cannot escape the subtle prejudice of the imagination that God is somehow or other outside the world.

Logically, by mathematical arguments, we may accept that God cannot really be outside the world. But sentimentally, emotionally and by social gospels into which we have been introduced from childhood, we persist in the imagination that God is somewhere outside the world. So we always speak of reaching God—“I have to reach God”, “I have to go to God”, “I have to attain God”, etc. There are lengthy descriptions in various scriptures of even the passages through which we have to pass to reach God.

Now, we do not know how God is related to this world. Is God outside the world, or is God inside the world? If He is outside the world, what is the connection between Him and the world? Is there a gap of emptiness between the world and God? If so, then He cannot be regarded as omnipresent, all-pervading; He is only somewhere, like a large personality. To remove all these misconceptions at one stroke the Teacher of the Bhagavadgita says: Mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya—“Nothing outside Me can exist. So don't argue glibly that the world is outside Me.”

This answer is not a final answer; it is a tentative answer, but a very important answer. The final answer comes later on in another chapter; it has not come yet. To remove the doubt at the very outset, to nip the doubt in the bud, the Teacher says: Mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya—“Outside Me nothing can be, and higher than Me, nothing is.” Mayi sarvam idam protam sutre mani-gana iva. How can we describe the relationship of God to His creation, when He says that nothing outside Him can exist? If outside Him nothing exists, creation is not outside Him. If creation is not outside Him, where is it? The answer is given in various stages. We cannot say where it is, if it is not outside Him. We will be surprised that we are given an answer which raises further questions of a more difficult character. So, an initial answer is given to an initial question that may arise in the mind of a student. As beads are sewn on a thread, and all the beads are connected by a single thread that passes through all of them in a necklace or garland, whatever it is, so is God present continuously through all the various particulars of the world. Just as a thread passes through all the beads and is continuously present without any break in the middle, it is indivisibly present throughout, entering into every bead throughout, so also God, the great Creator of the universe, is present in every particle of creation. It is like beads which are strung on this cosmic thread—the sutratman.

These answers, given by the Teacher, raise further questions of the relationship between the thread and the beads and so on, because the thread is not the beads, and the beads are not the thread. Again a doubt will come that God is not the world, and the world is not God. So we are not going into these details now in this chapter—it will be taken up further on. For the time being we are told to satisfy our initial curiosity that God is present in all things, and we need not be under the impression that He is far away, unreachable as a so-called transcendent. Yet, when God is taken as a Creator and as a thread passing through all the beads of things in the universe, the subtle misgivings of the transcendence of God persists, inadvertently, willy-nilly.

However, keeping this question aside for the time being to be answered later on, we are told that everything in this world, whatever be the variety that we see, is constituted of a single divine creative will. Ye caiva sattvika bhava rajasas tamasas ca ye, matta eveti tan viddhi na tv aham tesu te mayi. Good things, bad things, pleasant things, unpleasant things, beautiful things, ugly things, right things and wrong things—whatever it be, the things that exist in this world are somehow or other included in this cosmic comprehensiveness of the Creator. They are arranged in such a pattern in the cosmic set-up that there seems to be the sattvica, rajasa and tamasa, as they appear before our eyes. This is another great revelation here. Before the eyes of God the world stands transfigured, and it does not stand as it stands before us. Before God, the world does not exist as an object to be confronted every day, as it does with people. We have to confront the world; we have to face it; we have to attack it. Sometimes we are subjugated by it, and those are our sorrows, because our minds accept certain characteristics of the world according to the capacities of comprehension with which the mind is endowed, and what it cannot accept is rejected by the mind, just as a certain spectrum of colour in the leaves of a tree absorb a particular ray of the sun, and appear to us as green color. The green colour of the leaf, for instance, is the effect of an abstraction. All colours have this feature—everything is of this character.

So, when this selectiveness in perception is overcome by the intuitive character of comprehension which is the vision of God, it is not a sensory perception. God does not see the world with eyes as we see, but He has an intuitive, instantaneous, transcendental comprehension, at one grasp, at the totality of creation. And here, the distinctions that appear to our minds do not exist at all—they get transmuted into a single wholeness of indivisibility. When the great Creator is said to be inclusive of all things in the world, of every character, desirable or undesirable, necessary or unnecessary, pleasant or otherwise, we cannot understand. We cannot think as God thinks, because we have no intuitive comprehension of things. We have only sensory organs. We see, hear, taste, smell, and touch—but God is not like that. His existence is His Self; His perception is inseparable from His Being. His existence is His Knowledge, whereas our existence is not our knowledge—there is a difference. All things are existent in some form or the other, ultimately, in their archetypal Creator, in God the Almighty. This is the way in which we are introduced to teachings of the next six chapters of Bhagavadgita, from the seventh to the twelfth, for the purpose of giving us a complete knowledge of the cosmology of creation with the intention of introducing us into the Being of God Himself.

These difficulties that we made reference to, which we have to face in the study of these divine and sublime subjects, are because of the persistence of certain weaknesses in our individualities. The weaknesses are nothing but the affirmations of our own selves. There is an inveterate impulse in every one of us to assert ourselves, and the biblical story of the fall of Satan, Lucifer, is a commonly accepted doctrine of the original fall of man. That is the original fall, and the eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree is the assertion of individuality by a sudden awareness of good and bad, good and evil. We are told that Adam and Eve had no idea of good and evil—they did not even know that they were naked. This idea itself was not there; there was no consciousness of it, because they were communed to the whole creation. The eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree is the desire to grab objects of sense for the satisfaction of the appetites that manifest themselves to the senses. These assertive forces persist until the day of doom, and they do not leave us; they go on whispering something into our ears.

The terrible encounter had to be faced even by a great man like Buddha. “You have chosen this path in error; you are wrong. Your sadhana, the meditation that you are attempting, are false attempts,” Mara says to Buddha. Christ's temptations that are spoken of in the New Testament are the mystical stages through which everyone has to pass. Everyone is a Buddha and everyone is a Christ, one day or the other—if not today, tomorrow. Everybody has to pass through the same series of stages, and all have to undergo the same torture of carrying the cross on our backs. None can be exempted from this sorrow. The sorrow of the ego, which is inflicted with pain of self-annihilation, is asking for God. When we ask for God, we are asking for death, and who likes death? There is a terror which makes the ego shudder at the very thought of the immersion of the soul in God. These difficulties appear like mountains later on, and therefore, at the beginning, we have to go through all the various chapters of the Gita, and not suddenly jump to the later chapters.

There are many students who think that the sixty-sixth verse of the eighteenth chapter is the sum and substance of Gita—Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja, aham tvm sarva-papebhyo moksayisymi ma sucah. Well, this is the sixty-sixth verse of the eighteenth chapter, and it has been told only towards the conclusion of the entire teaching which has passed through various stages. We too have to pass through the emotional turmoil through which Arjuna passed in the first chapter, and we will also find ourselves in the same condition of utter misery and helplessness in which he found himself emotionally. We will have to find ourselves in this condition, if we have not already done so. The spiritual seeker has to face a fire in which he has to be burnt and burnt. The demands that God makes upon us are hard indeed, harder and more inconceivable then the demands of a hard-boiled creditor. It is as if God is a creditor; we owe something to Him and He will take the last farthing. This word 'farthing' actually occurs in the New Testament—you have to pay the last farthing, and you cannot go scot-free.

But this religious, spiritual or mystical requirement on our part will take us beyond religion itself. As long as we are dogmatic in our adherence to a fanatical theological doctrine of this 'ism' or that 'ism', as long as we fight over languages and kin, and stick to our prejudices of nationalities and various cultures, to that extent we are far from God. The Bhagavadgita, in a super-national gospel, gives us this great caution, asking us to transmute ourselves into super-national individuals not belonging to any nation. In our spirit we are super and exist above these limiting shackles of wealth and power, of distinctions of umpteen types and, in a sentence, we may say that the Bhagavadgita's gospel is a gospel of the universalisation of the individual. Towards this great goal the Teacher takes us in the further chapters.