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

Chapter 9: The Unity of the Lover and the Beloved

The seventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita introduces us into the great doctrine of God and creation—something very stimulating and thrilling as the subject develops through the chapters that follow, one after another. The cosmology of the Gita has been stated in a very few succinct verses at the very beginning of the seventh chapter, to which we made reference in the previous chapter. The relationship between God and the world is the crucial point in cosmological doctrines and theological principles. In fact, the explanation behind the existence of many religions in the world is here, namely, the relationship between God and the world, and consequently the relationship between the world and humanity. There are systems which have taken a stand that emphasises one aspect or the other—the transcendent aspect of God, the immanent aspect of God, or the total difference between God and the world.

There has been another difficulty in coming to a conclusion as to the actual state of affairs. God's relationship to the world includes His relationship with everything, because all things are contained in what we call the world or creation. The points of the different theologies are taken into consideration in the various chapters of the Bhagavadgita, right from the seventh chapter onwards. In the analogy of the thread passing through the numerous beads in a garland, it was told to us that God exists as a connecting link amidst all the particulars and diversities. This is the first answer to the question of the relationship among things. Is there any vital or immanent connection between one thing and another in this world—between a tree and a stone, or a man and a beast? In this analogy of the thread passing through the beads of a garland, the initial answer is given. There is a connecting link even between apparently irreconcilable particulars, just as the initial bead is connected with a distant bead because of the uniformity of the thread that passes through all the beads in a necklace or garland. This answer is good enough, because it establishes the internal connection of things amidst the apparent diversity of objects. While bodies differ because of their placement in space and time, their souls are united because of the thread-soul that passes through all these beads of individuals—the sutratman, or the cosmic thread, which connects all these bodies, right from the angels in heaven down to the lowest atoms of inanimate nature.

The answer is good enough, but it raises questions of a philosophical nature. For a devotee of faith or a practitioner of yoga the answer that God pervades all things is quite adequate, but the philosopher or the scientist questions that point of pervading everywhere and immanency. When we dip a cloth in a bucketful of water and leave it there for some time, we find that water pervades the whole of the cloth. Every fibre is saturated and is dripping with water, so that we may say there is an immanence of water in the cloth. There is a presence of water in every bit of the cloth, in every fibre, but the water is not the cloth. This is something very clear, and everyone knows the distinction between the two. The philosophical doubts are of this nature. Does God pervade the world? Is God the same as the world, or is there some sort of distinction?

This doubt is cleared up by another aphoristic verse. Ye caiva sattvika bhava rajasas tamasas ca ye, matta eveti tan viddhi na tv aham tesu te mayi. An answer with a subtle question implied is given in this verse. This is a good answer, but it raises a further question later on. That which we call sattvic, rajasic and tamasic—all these are emanations from God only—matta eveti tan viddhi. Not only are the objects through which the thread passes tamasic constitutes, anything that is objective is tamasic in nature. So tamas and objects can be equated with each other. The inertia of the objects is the same as this tamasic element that we speak of in Samkhya or any other philosophy. So, to refute the doubt that the sattvic soul that passes through all the objects may perhaps be qualitatively different from the objects themselves, the great Teacher of the Gita tells us that even the objects emanate from the being of God. That means to say, the divine soul which permeates the object is also the soul of the object. The objects are tamasic; the forces that distinguish the seer from the seen, the object from the subject is rajasic; and the consciousness that enlivens us in the process of perception is sattvic. All these proceed from God.

Na tv aham tesu te mayi—this statement of this fragment of sloka injects another doubt in the mind. While it is true that some of our misgivings are quietened by the great gospel of the presence of God in all things—sattvica, rajasica and tamasica—even in the grossest of objects, while it is wonderful indeed, the great Master adds one appendix to this great verse. Na tv aham tesu te mayi: “They are in Me, but I am not in them.” This is a great surprise given to us. But this doubt also arises on account of a wrong comparison that we make, and a comparison that is befitting only in empirical experiences and not the ultimate Truth. Why does the great Master tell us that everything is in Him but He is not in things? And He is going to tell something even more surprising later on.

The drop is in the ocean, but can we say that the ocean is in the drop? We may say yes; we may say no. Likewise is this teaching. From one point of view at least, the whole cannot be regarded as present in the part, while from another point of view—a highly metaphysical and spiritual point of view—the whole can be said to be present in the part. It is true that the whole ocean is present in every drop, because it is enlivened by the power of the ocean. Its existence is the ocean; it cannot be separated from this ocean, and the impulses within the bosom of the ocean are conveyed to every drop in the ocean. So the ocean is in the drop, yet the very fact that we utter two words, 'ocean' and 'drop', should make out that there is a distinction drawn between the ocean and the drop. The ocean is not in the drop, because the ocean contains all drops and not merely one drop, so it cannot be said to be entirely present in only one drop. The drop is there, but the ocean is not there in the drop—na tv aham tesu te mayi. This enigma will come later on, in the ninth chapter of the Gita. When we come to it, we shall see. A similar statement is being made: Pasya me yogam aisvaram. “Look at the miracle of My being,” says the Lord. “I am there, and I am also not there.” Both are true. Mat-sthani sarva-bhutni na cham tesv avasthitah—this is said in the ninth chapter, to which we will refer later on.

So, the viewpoints of religious consciousness are the subjects of treatment in the chapters of the Gita, from the seventh to the eleventh at least, and all the theological questions are answered here, traditionally. So we are in the first step now where we are struggling through all the various questions that arise in our minds in regard to the relationship between God and the world, and consequently the relationship between ourselves and God. The very same chapter tells us that there are varieties of seeking souls. All seekers are not on the same level of evolution, and therefore a common answer cannot be given to all people. In a public audience a simple answer to a question of creation cannot be propounded, on account of the difference in the receptive capacities of people—students, the audience, the aspirants, the seekers.

Among the many kinds of seekers that we can think of, four at least are mentioned in this chapter. There is the lowest type of seeking souls—lovers of God indeed, devotees, religious people—but they are in the lowest category. So even among devotees of God there can be categories, which means to say there can be levels of devotion, again which means there can be levels in the comprehension of God. The levels in the comprehension of God create levels of devotion, even levels in philosophy, and levels in social life, the personality within us, and our day-to-day activities. All these are influenced by our ultimate comprehensive capacity of the reality of things. Catur-vidha bhajante mam janah sukrtino'rjuna, arto jijnasur artharthi jnani ca bharatarsabha: “Four kinds of devotees worship Me.”

The distressed souls seeking God are of one type. One who is baked in the fire of samsara,who is tortured in this hell of earth, suffering through various sorrows, seeks riddance from the grief of the world by resort to God under the impression that God is like a parent—a father or a mother or a supreme saviour. The intention behind this devotion is redress—freedom from sorrow, the inability to bear suffering. This is the reason here behind the devotion to God. Whether this could be an adequate reason, anyone can contemplate independently for oneself. Can we love God merely because He is the only source of redemption from our sorrows? Do we want freedom from sorrow, or do we want God? That is a different question that will come up later on.

Another type of devotee is those who seek expansion in their possessions (artha). The exponents of the Bhagavadgita vary in their opinion as to the true meaning of this word artha. Usually artha means material possession or empirical gain of some kind or other. One who seeks material wealth or prosperity of a temporal character, and for this purpose resorts to God and devotion to divinities, such a devotee is regarded as an artharthi. But others who study the Gita tell us that an atharthi need not be equated with a person who seeks material prosperity, for a reason which they deduce in this manner. There is a sequence in the placement of the words in this half-verse: arto jijnasur artharthi jnani. It appears as if the words go on rising from the lower to the higher categories, until one reaches jnana, which is the wisdom of God. In this verse, artha is placed at the lowest level, the jigjnasu at the next, the artharthi at the third and jnani as last. Can it be said that one who seeks knowledge is inferior to one who seeks material possessions? It looks very odd that we should think that the seeker of knowledge is in any way inferior to one who seeks material prosperity. It cannot be. The seeker of wisdom should be regarded as superior to one who seeks material prosperity, and therefore we have to understand by the word artha something different from mere material possessions, enjoyment or acquisition. So the opinion of these students of the Bhagavadgita is that artha should be regarded here as the summum bonum of purushartha—they who seek moksha, the highest purushartha—and therefore they are certainly to be considered superior even to the seekers of knowledge or wisdom. They are seekers of dissolution of themselves in God—moksharthi.

Well, this is an opinion; the word by itself can be interpreted either way. Anyway, there seems to be, in the opinion of the great Master of the Bhagavadgita, degrees in devotion and levels of approach to God. Jigjnasu, as I mentioned, is one who seeks knowledge of reality. He is a devotee of the Supreme Being with the intention of seeking omniscience ultimately, and there are such devotees who ask nothing from God. They request the blessing or the grace of enlightenment, and nothing else. That should be regarded as the highest type of devotion where one prays to God, not for anything that is temporary, transient or physical, but for enlightenment, the divine flash of the supreme wisdom of divinity.

The last-mentioned is jnani, one who has become totally united with That which is. Udarah sarva evaite: “All these are good people,” says the Lord. He does not condemn any devotee, saying that he is the lowest type. “All these are wonderful. They are dear to Me; they are good. But the jnani, the knower who has established a conscious identity between his being and the Supreme Being, is verily My own Soul. He has become My Soul; he has become the Universal Soul.” Vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahtma sudurlabhah: Rare indeed is that soul, blessed indeed is that person who realises that God is all—not that God is merely pervading things or is immanent in a theoretical sense, not that God is merely a Creator as a carpenter who is a creator of a chair or table, but that He is the All. Such a great soul is rare to find. We will find many devotees of God, perhaps, but we will not find many who are convinced, from the bottom of their hearts, that God alone is and nothing else can be. The possibility of the existence of anything external to God creates an endless variety of questions and problems and sorrows. We rush from one trouble to another trouble from the initial mistake of imagining even the least distinction between God and His created universe.

We have been told that God did not create the universe out of some substance like wood or bricks or mortar. In some scriptures it is said that God created the universe out of nothing. To say that He created the world out of nothing is another way of saying that He created it out of Himself, because 'nothing' is a word which connotes no thing. There is no substance behind the word 'nothing'. So if nothingness is the material cause of this world, the world would also be nothing. It would be like a balloon, looking like a huge, bloated something but with no substance inside. If God created the world out of nothing, taking the word 'nothing' in its literal sense and accepting the logical conclusion that the effect is of the same nature as the cause, the world would be nothing in the same way as its cause is nothing. So what we see in front of us as the vast universe is nothing, hollowness, zero, an insubstantial phantom, a delirium of spirit, if God has created the world out of nothing. But if the world has been created out of God Himself, then also a similar conclusion follows—we are not seeing the world in front of us, we are seeing only God. We may say that the world does not exist, or that only God exists; both mean the same thing. So to say that God created the world out of nothing, or to say that God created everything out of Himself are two ways of stating one reality, one fact, one conclusion that there cannot be anything external to God—vasudevah sarvam.

This is the height of devotion, which the mind cannot ordinarily contain, because devotion here melts into experience. Where there is a lover and a beloved, there can be love, devotion, affection and longing. There can be yearning and an agony and anguish within because of the consciousness of having lost the beloved, being in a state of bereavement of the beloved, and longing for proximity to the beloved, the devotion getting intensified as the devotee moves nearer and nearer to the great object of his devotion. The four stages mentioned here—arto jijnasur artharthi jnani—explain subtly the various stages of bhakti, gaunabhakti, vaidhibhakti, culminating in parabhakti. Ritualistic devotion is called vaidhibhakti. The well known devotions of the world, where devotees cry to God in prayers of various types, as inculcated in the various religions, is gaunabhakti; but parabhakti is the inability to exist without God.

In the Bhakti Shastras, various rasas are mentioned—various tastes, as they are called. The subjects treated of in the Alankara Shastras are rhetoric. We pass through various stages of emotion in devotion to God, right from the social level, the physical level, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the spiritual levels. We find that we are shaken up gradually as we proceed onwards, stage by stage, to the Being of God. It is as if the river is straining towards the ocean—it is sensing the very presence of the flood that is dashing in front of it at the delta. The river has not yet touched the ocean, but it can sense it. It can feel the atmosphere of the ocean which is there to swallow it. The rasa bhakti, the various experiences, is the impact of the Soul upon the various vestures of our personality, God touching us in different degrees of intensity. Devotion to God is the connection that we establish between ourselves and God, and this connection increases in its intensity and strength as the devotion goes on developing gradually by daily practice. In the beginning it may be true that we are expecting something from God. Yes, we cannot deny this fact. Who can say that we do not expect something from God—at least 'peace of mind', as we say. It is the least harmful of things that we are asking; even then it is something that we ask from God. Well, everyone asks for something from God, a redress from some kind of difficulty—psychological, intellectual, social, political, and what not. So, He is the resource-filled and abundant reservoir of bounty to bestow all that we need, and we seek God for this purpose.

We seek God for enlightenment, that is true, and devotion takes a new turn when the soul asks for God only. Not that it has obtained God, not that it has even comprehended the infinitude of God, but it has come to a definite conclusion that God is the goal of life. Even to come to this conclusion is a hard thing for normal people. The comprehension of the infinitude of God and the philosophical, mystical, spiritual meaning hidden behind the relationship between us and God—they are a different thing altogether. But even apart from these profundities, the deepest conviction that can charge our feelings is that we can accept nothing as our aim of life except God's Being. If our deepest essence convinces itself that what we need is God's Being and nothing else—not favours from people, not satisfaction from objects, not status in society, not a long life in space and time—but only That, and nothing but That, even this conviction, driven into the heart, should be regarded as one of the greatest achievements of spiritual life. It is not an ordinary feeling. Among the millions and millions that live in this world, how many can be so very deeply convinced that this is the truth of life? We have many tentacles to distract our attention and we bargain with God; we establish a commercial relationship with God, even if it may be in a philosophical manner.

So the seventh chapter of Gita tells us that jnana is the highest type of devotion. In the earlier stages of devotion, our hair may stand on end. There may be perspiration; there may be chocking of the throat; there may be trembling of the voice and a shutter of the whole system, a feeling of melting, as it were, into nothingness. A kind of swooning also takes place in ecstasy of devotion. These are the bhavas of bhakti. But the swooning is not a morbid psychological swooning of a patient who is bereft of consciousness—it is the shock that is injected into the soul by the presence of God. When God touches us, we may become unconscious, and this unconsciousness is not a disease, like an ordinary unconsciousness that comes to us when we fall from a tree, for instance, and get hit on the head. How is it possible that we can be in a swoon when God touches us? Yes, it is possible, on account of a particular situation in which the individual soul finds itself when it is bordering upon merger into God. The impact of God upon the individual soul creates an unconsciousness of a spiritual type, which is not an unconsciousness of the tamasic character.

It is the last fear that the ego of the individual has to shed. If everything is going to be lost and you are not going to have even a farthing left in your life, you are going to be deprived of your kingdom, your profession, your land and house, your relations, everything—even the raiment you put on your body will be snatched away from you and the very ground that you are standing on is going to be cut from under your feet—you will be shocked indeed to hear all these things. But the shock that you get at the moment you feel that you yourself are going to be lost will be much greater than the other shocks. At the time of losing possessions—even the last thing that you can think of—the fear of losing oneself is the greatest of all fears, greater than the fear of losing all property and even status in life. So the last sorrow of the ego is this touch of God, and that is why the great mystics have said that no one can see God and live afterwards. You cease to be. Can you ever imagine what it is to cease to be? Can there be a greater shock than the expectation that you will cease to be?

This is the divine madness of the great mystics, the sages and saints who were God-intoxicated. We have words which demonstrate the incapacity to express the depth of this reality that we are trying to convey. Otherwise, why do we say “God-mad”, “God-intoxicated”, etc? These words 'intoxication', 'madness', etc. have extreme meanings, which alone seem to be able to convey this extreme experience that is going to take place. We will be surprised to read the expositions on the mystical revelations of saints and sages in mystical texts, in language which is not normal. All these superb poets, who established themselves in God-experience, tried to express their feelings and experiences in terms which is not the ordinary language of the world, and that is why when we read this poetry we feel shaken up—we are disturbed in a very profound manner. The greatest art is that which disturbs our feelings the moment we look at it or hear it. If we walk away unaffected after seeing a painting, it is not a good painting. But, if the moment we see it we are disturbed, transported and thrown out of our personality, and we have lost ourself in one second—that is art, that is poetry, that is mystical experience. This is the great culmination, the apotheosis to which the Bhagavadgita will lead us from the seventh chapter, as we proceed further.