The Struggle for Perfection
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: Personal and Social Implications

This grand achievement is the precious fruit of personal spiritual practice (Sadhana). The effort is fourfold: The wisdom of God as the Absolute (Brahman), contemplation on God as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer (Paramatman), love of God as the benefactor of all beings (Bhagavan), and service of God as manifest in creation in an attitude of unselfishness (Karmaphalatyaga). These four approaches to God are technically known as Jnana, Yoga, Bhakti and Karma, which mean knowledge, meditation, devotion and dedicated action, respectively (XII. 8-11). It is by this practice that the grand vision of God as the Supreme Being is to be transformed into a permanent experience of day-to-day life and not merely had as a flash or a glimpse that comes and goes in moments of ecstasy. Continued practice of a synthesis of the four methods of attunement of oneself to God ensures a life of divinity on earth by a perpetual establishment in God-consciousness (13-19). This is the personal side of spiritual practice. Its social aspect is explained further on, in relation to the world. It is commonly believed that there is a contradiction between God and the world, and what obtains in God cannot hold good in the world. There has been a distinction unwittingly introduced between eternity and temporality, a situation which has led also to a bifurcation of spiritual life from social and political life, for instance. The spiritual hero is not regarded as being fit enough to be a political hero or a statesman, and vice versa. The Bhagavadgita is a standing refutation of this misconception regarding the relation between God and the world, which it does not only with its superbly active gospel of spirituality, reason and commonsense, but also by pointedly making its venue a frightful battle-field. Sri Krishna Himself is before us as an immortal example of how the Bhagavadgita is to be lived in one's personal life. What a perfected blending of knowledge, spiritual power, statesmanship, political insight, and personal grandeur! Such a personality was Sri Krishna whose life is a perennial commentary on the gospel he taught to mankind, with Arjuna as its occasion. This fact of life, which is the perfected life, being mostly stifled by the sensory view of things, is hidden from the vision of the common man who takes the world for one thing and God for another thing. The teachings commencing from the thirteenth chapter and concluding with the eighteenth, in the Bhagavadgita, are a detailed enunciation of how the vision of the Supreme Being, which opened up in the eleventh chapter and in which an establishment was sought in the twelfth, is to be the sole guide in one's daily life in the world. Here, the realisation of God, instead of abolishing the law of the world, transforms it into a reign of divine wisdom which plants the eternal meaning of the Spirit in the temporal succession of the earth. God and the world do not deny each other but coalesce into a single fact of existence, which is demonstrated in the life of synthesis and perfection lived by the liberated soul (Jivanmukta).

Towards the achievement of this end, we are initiated into the nature of the knower (Kshetrajna) and the field of knowledge (Kshetra). Matter is the field of the activity of the Spirit (XIII. 1). Consciousness is different from the body, as it is also the impartial witness of all other objects. This consciousness is also the universal observer of all things and, thus, omnipresent (2). The field of the activity of consciousness includes both the external universe as the physical objects and ourselves as the psychological subjects (5,6). Though this knowledge was already given in an earlier stage when it was known that the qualities of Prakriti move among the very same qualities as the senses and mind on one side and the objects on another side (Ch. III), it now comes with a new significance that consciousness is here realised as not merely a witness isolated from its objects but as one organically entwined with the latter, transcending and including both the subjects and the objects. How such an organic connection between the subjects and the objects bearing distinct characters is possible can be evident only when these two related terms are visualised from the standpoint of the Absolute, which is incapable of being designated either as being or non-being, since it is spread out everywhere, not only in all things but as all things, moving and unmoving, living and non-living, active and inactive, visible and invisible (XIII. 12-17). The seeing of all things, within as well as without, by consciousness, is possible because the Absolute as consciousness is a blend of all things within and without, covering everything equally, seeing, hearing, knowing, grasping and being everything, all at once. Here is given, in this stupendous realisation, a more practical touch to the grand cosmic vision provided at the stage of the eleventh chapter. The inner effort, however, needed to perpetuate this realisation consists in the practice of the ethico-metaphysical virtues of humility born of knowledge, unpretentiousness, unprejudiced regard for all beings, straightforwardness, self-control, equanimity of attitude, love for solitude, pursuit of the higher enlightenment which substantiates a grounding of oneself in Truth (7-11).

There is, again, a fresh light thrown on this enlightenment. The universe as Prakriti is not constituted of material substances or tangible objects but is essentially a movement of forces or energies (Gunas). These forces, again, are not anything which can be equated with forms perceptible to the senses. They are supersensible, and, from the point of view of the senses, virtually 'unsubstantial'; only, they act in certain ways, and it is the action of these forces which appears as the universe of sensory perception. These ways of the universal energy are three: dynamic, inert, and equilibrated, known respectively as Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva (XIV. 5). The threefold energy binds consciousness to individual experience of passion, delusion and understanding. The junction and disjunction of the forces is the union and separation of beings (6-8). When knowledge rises to this occasion, it enables one to look upon the world not as an object to be dealt with in any manner, but as a sea of forces which has not within it the distinction of inside and outside. The coming and going of the forces, their union and separation, makes no difference now to the enlightened person. There is no material world obstructing or contending with consciousness. The knower operates upon the cosmic forces and becomes one who has transcended their operative jurisdiction (Gunatita). The knowing principle (Kshetrajna) assumes universal sway and the field of action (Kshetra) becomes only a name that is given to the way in which consciousness manifests itself as forces of Nature. The universal knower, not any more an individual perceiver, is the supreme master of the destiny not only of himself but all that there is anywhere; neither elated nor depressed at anything, not taking any personal initiative but cooperating with the cosmos (22-26).

Such a master or adept is the true representative of God in the world – Purushottama (XV. 18). Sri Krishna was a specimen of this type of superman who ranged beyond the limitations of individual nature, overcoming the forms of externality, whether as the seeing subject or the seen object. He is, verily, Man-God moving in the world. Here we have the complete picture of the Gita's teaching, enthroning humanity in the status of divinity and leaving man wholly free in all the worlds. All-knowledge and all-power are His special endowments. Here the principle of duality, of the divine and undivine forces (Daivi and Asuri Sampat) is confronted directly and resolved for ever. The divine and the undivine are not merely ethical opposites as the good and the bad, with which we are usually familiar in our life, but the first fluctuation of the point of creativity into the positive and negative poles, which gains suzerainty in all the realms of being – physical, vital, mental, intellectual, moral and social. This polarity of forces, known as the divine and the undivine elements in creation, is totally overcome and resolved into an absolute form of perfection, wherein the conflict between subjectivity and objectivity melts into a unity of positivity of character (XVI. 6, 1-5). Here the psychological distinction of 'I' and 'you' is transmuted into a limitless selfhood of experience.

There are really no positive and negative forces, from the point of view of a still higher vision. These poles appear to be warring with each other when consciousness remains as a witness of creation. But it has to rise beyond this state of even a witness and enter into the very field and make this field a part of its own being. God has to regard the universe as His very body, for it is not outside Him any more. In that integrated Universal Individual, there cannot be a conflict of the Daiva and Asura forces. They are overcome, and there comes the universal attitude of pure perception which is called 'Faith' in an intensely supernormal connotation, as a general spontaneous communion with life, and not the ordinary tendency to 'belief' in what one cannot understand. This rarefied attitude of Sattva is contradistinguished from that of the unregenerate nature of Rajas and Tamas at the lower levels. The exalted attitude of the highest synthesis in life is symbolised in the mystic phrase 'Om Tat Sat' (XVII. 23). The Absolute as the transcendent is 'Tat', as immanent it is 'Sat', and as a fusion of the two aspects in its all-comprehensiveness it is 'Om'. There is a greater and greater tendency to unification, universality and non-externalised selfhood as consciousness advances in its march towards perfection. In the state of the cosmic equilibrium of Sattva, the tripartite force of matter as Prakriti enters into the body of God as the Supreme Being. Consciousness here, having attained perfection, beholds perfection in the fundamental essence of being.

The perfection of an all-round symmetrical living, with due proportion of emphasis among understanding, determination, feeling and action while living one's life in the world with this supreme enlightenment makes spirituality commensurate with the world-process in its personal, social, natural and supernatural levels. One's duty towards one's own self is austerity (Tapas); one's duty towards the world and other people is charitable service (Dana); and one's duty towards God is a divine dedication (Yajna). These three obligations are inviolable (XVIII.5). Proportion in the practice of one's duty is to introduce perfection into life. The beholding of a common essence of reality as the imperishable basis of all beings, indivisible though present in everything divided in the world, is the perfection of understanding (20). To see variety, though connected in external relationships, would be imperfect understanding (21). But to take any particular object exclusively, as if it is everything in itself, is the lowest form of understanding, for it is farthest removed from truth, causing attachment and delusion in the mind (22). This is the final analysis of the philosophical foundation of human understanding. In its ethical application, that form of understanding is regarded as perfect, which knows correctly the pros and cons of things, what is proper and improper at any given situation, and what truly constitutes bondage and freedom of oneself as well as others (30). Imperfect understanding confuses standpoints between righteousness and unrighteousness and regards them in their improper significance (31). That type of understanding, however, which mistakes vice for virtue and misconstrues every context and situation in life, is of the worst type (32).

That volitional power by which one restrains the outgoing tendencies of the vital forces, the senses and the mind, by resort to unshaking meditation on Reality, is perfected determination (33). The will which works for personal gains and engages itself in the fulfilment of desires, the acquisition of material benefits and seemingly good efforts for the achievement of these ends, is imperfect determination (34). The will which finds itself incapable of freedom from sloth, fear, grief, despondency and pride is the lowest form of determination (35). The feeling of satisfaction of the perfect kind generally comes in the end, while the effort towards it seems painful and unpleasant; but this is the nature of all pure happiness which stabilises one's personality, fully (37). The satisfaction which looks enchanting in the beginning, due to the restless activity of contact of the senses with objects, is born of an imperfect kind of feeling (38). But the feeling which is of a delusive character, intoxicating due to the operation of the base instincts, attended with fatigue and stupor, leading to blunderous deeds, is brute satisfaction (39).

The process of conduct which takes into consideration all the five factors determining a course in any direction – physical fitness, psychological ability, fineness of instruments, various alternatives of procedure and, above all, the presiding principle of divinity over everything – and does not blind itself to a regard only for the visible aspects of effort in the world, is perfected action (14). When the divine principle superintending over all courses of action, though invisible to the senses, is overlooked, and only the temporal factors are emphasised, action becomes imperfect and leads one to a feeling of egoism born of the ignorance that oneself as an individual and a personality is the real doer of actions (16). The action which is not rooted in the background of like and dislike for things and whereby the intellect does not get deluded into the false notion of agency in action is the purified one; it does not bind the doer thereof. Such action is born of Sattva or knowledge (17, 23). An action involving much labour and effort, causing fatigue and anxiety born of desire and self-regard, is the effect of Rajas or distraction and lack of composure (24). That which disregards the pros and cons and relevance of factors involved in a situation, regardless of the inconvenience and pain caused to others thereby, inconsiderate also of one's fitness to perform it, merely viewing it from a selfish end born of thorough misconception, is action engendered by Tamas or inertia, or stupidity (25).