Spiritual teaching, if it is authentic, always has a markedly practical effect. So here at the beginning of the eleventh chapter of the Gita Arjuna tells Krishna: “As a favor to me You have spoken about the highest secret known as the Supreme Self. With this my delusion is gone” (11:1). Amazing words! But nonetheless absolutely true.
First, knowledge about the Self and the Supreme Self come to the evolving spirit directly from God in a deeply personal manner, from Friend to friend. We must never lose sight of this. However high we may soar in ideas about the transcendent aspect of God, we must never lose sight of the fact that God is a Person relating to persons. Both God and we are fundamentally persons–purushas–and spiritual life must always be conducted in this perspective.
Second, the knowledge of God is the ultimate knowing. Beyond it there is nothing, for it embraces all things, God being infinite.
Thirdly, those who possess this knowing are freed absolutely from all delusion–it melts away like mist before the rays of the sun and is found no more.
Seeing comes from believing
It is exactly in the right order of things that after the seeker hears the truth and recognizes it by the intuition awakened by meditation, he would want to progress further by actually seeing/experiencing that which he now “knows” through intuition. For direct experience is the final step in our evolution. Therefore Arjuna now says: “The origin and the dissolution of beings have been heard in detail by me from You, O Krishna, and also Your imperishable majesty. Thus, as you have described yourself, O Supreme Lord, I desire to see Your divine form, O Supreme Spirit. If You think it possible for me to see this, O Lord of Yogis, then show me Your imperishable Self” (11:2-4).
There is one point that is worthy of note in the fourth verse: “If You think it possible for me to see this….” It has nothing to do with God’s attitude toward us or a judgment as to our worthiness. It is simply a matter of capability. As Yogananda said in one of his talks, if you expand your consciousness sufficiently, “then God will automatically get into you.” The English may be a bit novel, but the idea is clear. This is what yoga is all about: preparing us for the Divine Vision.
In response Krishna says: “Behold My forms, a hundred fold, a thousandfold, various, divine, and of various colors and shapes. Behold…many wonders unseen before, behold! Behold now the entire universe, with everything animate and inanimate, standing together here in My body, and whatever else you desire to see. But you are not able to see Me with your own eyes. I give to you a divine eye: behold My majestic power!” (11:5-8) The narrator of the Gita, Sanjaya, says: “Having spoken thus, O King, the great Lord of Yoga revealed to Arjuna his majestic supreme form” (11:9).
As in the previous chapter there is a tremendous amount of lists of things seen by Arjuna, many of them relating to Hindu cosmology. As before, I will only comment on those points that have a practical meaning for the yogi.
“You are the unchanging, the supreme object of knowledge; You are the ultimate resting-place of all; You are the imperishable defender of the eternal dharma; You are the primeval Spirit, I believe” (11:18).
The new idea introduced here is that Brahman is Itself the defender/protector/preserver of eternal dharma. This is because dharma is the very nature of Brahman and ultimately is the same as Brahman. Whereas religions say that dharma is a matter of obeying God or doing what God wants, the Gita tells us that dharma is Brahman manifesting in this world, that it is not a matter of the will or whim of a deity, but Reality in demonstration. This is how yoga can be the science of the Divine. Praying, praising, serving, believing, and all such–none of this has any lasting reality, though they can be valuable helps along the way. This should be no surprise, for all along we have known that Brahman alone is real.
Aspiring to know
We have all heard that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but lack of knowledge can be more dangerous, especially in spiritual life. So in the thirty-first verse Arjuna tells Krishna: “I wish to understand You, primal One. Indeed, I do not comprehend what You are doing.” As much as we can, we need to intellectually grasp What/Who God is, and what is “the Mighty Work of God.” Otherwise we can never know what/who we are, and what we are supposed to be doing here–or anywhere, for that matter. True religion is not satisfied with groveling and slavish obeying: it seeks to turn unknowers into knowers, into worthy seers and siddhas.
Following this train of thought, in the thirty-sixth verse Arjuna says: “Rightly, O Krishna, the universe rejoices and is gratified by Your praise. The demons, terrified, flee in all directions. And all the throngs of the perfected ones bow before You.” Authentic worship of God is not just sentimentality or begging. Rather, it strengthens and moves forward the machinery of the universe, purifying, elevating, and stimulating it. And it does the same to those who are the Godwards.
But demons in human form revolt and flee when confronted with divine worship. I have witnessed this many times. They also protest when anything of a spiritual nature is brought even peripherally into their environment. They howl in many ways: some quite sophisticated and intellectual, and some in overt hatred and spite. But the wellsprings are the same: inner evil. On the other hand, the Godwards joyfully worship and praise, thankful to be able to do so. This is a special trait of Eastern worship, Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, and Eastern Christian. What joy they receive!
A new point
Now we move ahead: “And why should they not bow to You, O great One, who are the original Creator, greater even than Brahma! Infinite Lord of Gods, You are the dwelling place of the universe, the imperishable, the existent, the non-existent, and that which is beyond both” (11:37).
Here, too, there is one point that is relatively new to our study: “You are… the existent, the non-existent, and that which is beyond both.” It is not hard to figure that God encompasses all that exists, but how can Brahman also be what is not? “What is not” has three aspects: 1) what is not because it exists only in a potential form–as does the entire field of relative existence when it is withdrawn after a creation cycle; 2) that which has never so far existed, but which Brahman in Its limitless creative power could bring into existence; and finally 3) everything that “is” simply because nothing relative ever really exists at any time, but is only a idea in the individual and the divine minds. Since “is” and “is not” is a dwandwa, a pair of dualities, it is obvious that for Brahman, being beyond duality, such distinctions cannot exist. That which transcends “is” and “is not” is Brahman Itself. In this context, “is” is no more real than “is not.”
“You are the primal God, the ancient Spirit. You are the supreme resting place of all the universe. You are the knower, the object of knowledge, and the supreme abode. All the universe is pervaded by You, O You of infinite form” (11:38).
That which is known is also the knower. Such a concept seems beyond our comprehension until we realize that everything known is just an idea in our mind, and that is us. A perception is only a modification of the mind-substance (chitta) itself, and has no objective reality. So the object is really the subject all the time.
“You are Vayu, Yama, Agni, Varuna, the Moon, the Creator, and the original paternal great grandfather [the primal, original creator]. Salutation to You a thousand times, and again salutations, salutations, to You! Salutations to You from in front and behind, salutations to You on all sides also, O All. You are infinite valor and boundless might. You pervade all, therefore you are all” (11:39, 40). Those who see and know in the divine realms worship, bowing again and again with both body and mind. Krishna is showing us that jnana leads to bhakti, and bhakti leads to jnana. For they have the same Object and purpose.
History is filled with examples of people who have been kind or unkind to someone only to discover that the “someone” was a person of great prominence unrecognized by them. Arjuna finds himself in this situation. We are told that often when resting together, if Krishna was lying near, Arjuna would push at him with his foot and tell him to move over. In India, to touch someone even unintentionally with the foot is considered great carelessness and rudeness. When that happens, the offender touches the feet of the person and begs their pardon. To touch them deliberately, and kick them (even gently) is a cardinal insult. Yet, very dear and close friends sometimes do such things in jest as sign of intimacy and comeraderie. We are also told that if Krishna remarked that it was going to rain, and then it did not, Arjuna would say: “What a prophet you are! How wise! How all-knowing!” and tease him. He would also address him familiarly, leaving aside Krishna’s royal and spiritual status as the King of Dwarka and Yogeshwara, the Lord of Yoga.
Having now witnessed the real nature of Krishna as Infinite Being, Arjuna pleads: “Whatever I have said impetuously as if in ordinary friendship, ‘O Krishna, O Yadava, O Comrade,’ in ignorance of Your majesty, through negligence or even through affection, and if, with humorous purpose, You were disrespectfully treated, while at play, resting, while seated or while dining, when alone, or even before the eyes of others, for that I ask forgiveness of You, immeasurable One. You are the father of the world, of all things animate and inanimate. You are to be revered by this world. You are the most venerable Guru. There is nothing like You in the three worlds. How then could there be another greater, O Being of incomparable glory? Therefore, bowing down, prostrating my body, I ask forgiveness of You, O Lord. As is a father to a son, a friend to a friend, a lover to a beloved, please, O God, be merciful!” (11:41-44).
In The Night of the Iguana, one of the characters refers to “Man’s inhumanity to God.” When we really grasp that all along we have been dealing with Absolute Divinity Itself–ignoring, lying to, trying to fool, denying, and avoiding It–we are overcome with regret and dismay. How could we have done that? Like Arjuna we may try to find consolation in the idea that God is friend, father, and lover, but in the long run that will not avail. Real peace will only come to us when we realize that God is our ultimate Self, that we are absolutely one with Him–so how can he be either pleased or displeased with us? In fact, all those unworthy things we were doing to God we were really doing to our own selves as well.
But there is more. In the religious lore of the ages we find instances in which a face-to-face encounter with Reality virtually incapacitates the beholder, that it overstrains the still-evolving mind, as it is beyond its ability to take in and yet keep on functioning normally. God knows what He is doing. The eucharist of the Liberal Catholic Church speaks of “the limitations of time and space, wherewith it is Thy will to veil our earthly eyes from the excess of Thy glory,” because at its present level of development the human mind cannot cope with its fullness. Arjuna experiences this, too, and therefore says: “Having seen that which has never been seen before, I am delighted, and yet my mind trembles with fear. Show me that form, O God, in which You originally appeared. Have mercy, Lord of God, abode of the universe. I desire to see You wearing a crown, armed with a mace, discus in hand, as before. Become that four-armed form [as Vishnu], O thousand-armed One, O You who have all forms” (11:45, 46). Sometimes we have to settle for the veil rather than what is being veiled–at least for a while longer. In the same way, Arjuna asks to see the soothing form of Vishnu, the Preserver, in order to settle and reassure his mind.
How it comes about
What brings about the cosmic vision? Krishna tells Arjuna in his reply: “By My grace toward you, this supreme form has been manifested through My own power, this form of Mine, made up of splendor, universal, infinite, primal, which has never before been seen by other than you. Not by Vedic sacrifice nor [Vedic] recitation, not by gifts, and not by ritual acts nor by severe austerities, can I be seen in such a form in the world of men by any other than you. Have no fear or confusion on seeing this terrifying form of Mine, be again free from fear and cheered in heart. Behold My [previous] form!” (11:47-49)
Sanjaya then tells us: “Having spoken thus to Arjuna, Krishna revealed his own [previous] form again. Having resumed his gentle, wonderful appearance, he calmed Arjuna, who was terrified” (11:50). For Arjuna exclaims with relief: “Seeing Your gentle human form, O Krishna, now I am composed and my mind is restored to normal” (11:51).
The final assurance
Krishna sums up all the implications of Arjuna’s experience in words that apply to all of us who seek the divine union: “This form of Mine which you have beheld is difficult to see. Even the gods are constantly longing to behold it. Not through study of the Vedas, not through austerity, not through charity, and not through sacrifice can I be seen in this form as you have beheld Me. By single-minded devotion alone can I be known, and be truly see in this form, and be entered into. He who does all work for Me, considers Me as the Supreme, is devoted to Me, abandons all attachment, and is free from enmity toward any being, comes to Me” (11:52-55).
May we pursue this without delay.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Wisdom of Devotion
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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