A friend of mine used to say: “You will only get what you settle for.” He meant that if you will settle for little, that is what you will get. But if you will settle only for much, that will come to you. Apparently Arjuna held this same philosophy, for now he is going to ask some very vast questions. But Krishna will easily answer all these things in terms that millions throughout the ages will understand.
“What is Brahman? What is the Adhyatma: What is action [karma], O highest among Spirits [Purushottama]? What is the Adhibhuta? What is the Adhidaiva? In what manner, and what, is the Adhiyajna here in this body? And how at the hour of death are You to be known by those who are self-controlled?” (8:1,2) Krishna will answer these, but here are the definitions of all the technical terms in this verse as found in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary:
Brahman: The Absolute Reality; the Truth proclaimed in the Upanishads; the Supreme Reality that is one and indivisible, infinite, and eternal; all-pervading, changeless Existence; Existence-knowledge-bliss Absolute (Satchidananda); Absolute Consciousness; it is not only all-powerful but all-power itself; not only all-knowing and blissful but all-knowledge and all-bliss itself.
Adhyatma: The individual Self; the supreme Self; spirit.
Karma: Karma, derived from the Sanskrit root kri, which means to act, do, or make, means any kind of action, including thought and feeling. It also means the effects of action. Karma is both action and reaction, the metaphysical equivalent of the principle: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It is karma operating through the law of cause and effect that binds the jiva or the individual soul to the wheel of birth and death.
Purushottama: The Supreme Person; Supreme Purusha. Purusha: “Person” in the sense of a conscious spirit. Both God and the individual spirits are purushas, but God is the Adi (Original, Archetypal) Purusha, Parama (Highest) Purusha, and the Purushottama (Highest or Best of the Purushas).
Adhibhuta: Primal Being; Primal Element; Primordial Matter. Also: Supreme Being and Supreme Element.
Adhidaiva: Primal God; Supreme God.
Adhiyajna: Primal Sacrifice; Supreme Sacrifice.
Brahman, Adhyatma, and karma
“Brahman is the supreme imperishable; and Adhyatma is said to be the inherent nature [swabhava] of the individual, which originates the being of creatures; action [karma] is known as the creative power [of the individual, which causes him to be reborn in this or that condition of being]” (8:3).
Brahman is the supreme, unchanging Being, the eternal Fact of existence itself, the First to which all else is secondary. Since nothing can really be said about the transcendent Brahman, Krishna quickly passes on to that which we can comprehend–at least to some degree.
Adhyatma firstly is the principle of the indwelling Brahman in all beings as their Eternal Witness. But it is also the principle of the individual spirit’s eternal distinction from Brahman which enables it to manifest and dwell in many forms in succession. The power which brings this embodiment about is karma in its fundamental nature. So from this we see that karma is not only a reaction, but the action that originates our coming into relative existence. Karma both initiates and maintains the rebirth process.
World, man, and God
“The Adhibhuta is the perishable nature of being. The Adhidaiva is the supreme divine Agent itself [the purusha]. The Adhiyajna is Myself, here in this body” (8:4).
In previous essays I have pointed out that the Bhagavad Gita is an exposition of the Sankhya philosophy. Sankhya postulates the existence of three eternal things or entities: God, the individual spirit, and the divine Creative Power within which the individual evolves. This verse is about them. The Primal Element, the Adhibhuta, is Parashakti, the Supreme Energy which manifests as the entire range of relative being, including all the forms assumed by sentient beings in their evolutionary pilgrimage within itself. The Primal Deity is the individual divine Self, the jivatman, the purusha which is moving up the ladder of Adhibhuta. The Adhiyajna, the Primal Sacrifice is Brahman Itself, dwelling in the body [dehe dehabhritam] along with the individual Self.
The new idea presented in this verse is the concept that by entering into all beings as their Indweller God has become The Primal Sacrifice. Interestingly, the best elucidation of this idea is to be found in an esoteric Christian ritual–the Mass rite formulated by Bishop James I. Wedgwood, founder of the Liberal Catholic Church. In one of the prayers God is addressed as Him “Who, abiding unchangeable within Thyself, didst nevertheless in the mystery of Thy boundless love and Thine eternal Sacrifice breathe forth Thine own divine life into Thy universe…. Omnipotent, all-pervading, by that self-same Sacrifice Thou dost continually uphold all creation, resting not by night or day, working evermore through that…enduring Sacrifice by which the world is nourished and sustained.”
God does not only sacrifice Himself by entering into limited modes of being, he also does so by willingly experiencing all the attendant changes and states of mind inherent in those conditions. Many people ask how God can allow people to suffer, not realizing that He is suffering every pain and sorrow that all beings–not just humans–are enduring. A dying person only experiences the suffering and death of a single body, while God is experiencing the suffering and death of an almost infinite number of bodies–all at the same time. There is no nuance of struggle or suffering that God does not undergo right with us. Is this not a sacrifice beyond all conception? The sufferings we undergo are for our eventual benefit; they are necessary for us. Yet God, who certainly needs no such, agrees to live and experience all that we experience. There could be no greater sacrifice, no greater mercy, no greater love. So the next time we feel like complaining about our fate let us remember that God is enduring the same fate right along with us.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Sure Way To Realize God
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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Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.
Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary