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The Brahman-Knower

Part 44 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Seeing the One in all

Brahman is the origin of all, hence Krishna has this to say about the way the enlightened views all around him:

The wise see the same Self in a wise and disciplined Brahmin, in a cow, in an elephant, in a dog, even in an eater of dogs (5:18).

Most of the dogs in India are wild animals related to jackals and hyenas, and many of them are terribly diseased. They often travel in packs, even in the cities, and have been known to pull down, kill and eat a child. I was threatened by a pack of about thirty dogs right in Varanasi. They were rushing at me, but knowing that bullies are cowards, I picked up a big brick and made a throwing motion with it, and they ran back. But I got out of there immediately!

There are ashrams in India where they pretend to embody this verse. They feed and fawn over the mangy street dogs (or the purebred dog of the guru) and say: “God is Dog. Dog is God.” But an interesting thing can be observed: they show no such respect to Brahmins, and certainly not to poor and “common” Indians. Apparently they follow George Orwell: all may be equal, but some are more equal than others. Sometimes the cows get almost–but not quite–the same respect as the dogs. Such is life–and delusion.

The capacity to see the unity that is the truth behind all diversity, is unique to the enlightened. However much the unenlightened may verbally affirm unity, the pressure of life-experience dispels it like a mirage. Truth is only truth when it is realized.

The enlightened person is aware of diversity even though he perceives the underlying unity. And this is the crux of the matter: Unity is the underlying reality, but on the surface differentiation must be both seen and reacted to accordingly. For example, proper food and poison may be metaphysically the same, but the enlightened eat one and avoid the other. As long as we are in the world we must act to some extent as though it is real, just as in a dream we have to follow the rules even though we know we are dreaming. For example, we cannot walk through a dream wall, but must use a dream door. Sri Ramakrishna spoke of the unripe understanding of non-duality that can get us into difficulties. Here is the story he told regarding it:

“In a certain forest lived a holy man who had many disciples. Once he taught the disciples that they should bow down to all recognizing that God dwells in all beings. One day one of the disciples went to the forest to bring firewood for the sacrificial fire. All of a sudden there was an outcry, ‘Run, run all, wherever you are! A mad elephant is passing!’ Everybody ran, but the disciple did not flee. He knew that the elephant was also God. So he thought, ‘Why should I run away?’ So thinking he stood still and began to sing praises, bowing before the animal. The mahout on the elephant was, however, shouting, ‘Run, run!’ The disciple still did not move. Finally the elephant came and lifting him up with its trunk threw him on one side and left. The disciple was heavily bruised and lay unconscious on the ground.

“Hearing what had happened, his teacher and the other disciples came and carried him to the ashram. He was given medicine. Upon his regaining consciousness sometime later some one asked him, ‘Why did you not run away after hearing that the elephant was coming?’ He said, ‘The teacher had told me that God himself had become all these men, animals and the rest. That is why I did not move away, seeing that it was only God who was coming as an elephant.’ The teacher then said, ‘Yes, my child, it is true that the elephant God was coming, but the mahout God did warn you. Since all are God, why did you not pay heed to his words? One should also listen to the words of the mahout God.’”

A serial killer and a saint are fundamentally the same, but our conduct in relation to them had better be based on their difference.

Living in Brahman

Even here on earth rebirth is conquered by those whose mind is established in evenness. Brahman is without fault and the same to all; therefore they are established in Brahman (5:19).

Compulsory rebirth is conquered by the sage whose mind abides ever in the perfection of the Self and Brahman. Having gained the highest knowledge, he has no more need for rebirth. If he returns it will be to help others as he has been helped.

One should not exult when encountering what is liked, and one should not be repulsed when encountering the disliked. With firm intellect, undeluded, the knower of Brahman is established in Brahman (5:20).

This is because he knows that the pleasant and the unpleasant are both mere dreams, that the joy he experiences in his oneness with Brahman is the only real experience. Therefore:

He whose Self is unattached to external contacts, who finds happiness in the Self, whose Self is united to Brahman by yoga, reaches imperishable happiness (5:21).


Truly, pleasures born of contact with the senses are wombs of pain, since they have a beginning and an end. The wise man is not satisfied with them (5:22).

This is a very easy concept to grasp and a tremendously hard one to follow unwaveringly–such is our conditioning from millions (if not billions) of lives in which the senses have dominated our consciousness and blinded us to the Self. It would be wise to disregard the pleasures of the senses from the fact they are fleeting, and the truth that they will inevitably result in pain (dukha). That should seal our certainty that avoidance of such things is only good sense. Yet, as the camel chews the thorns, cutting and bloodying its lips, refusing to give up its pain-bearing enjoyment, so it is with us until we truly do “get a grip” and refuse any future folly. For this reason:

He who is able to endure here on earth, before liberation from the body, the agitation that arises from desire and anger, is steadfast, a happy man (5:23).

Mastery is the needed factor, for control is necessary for the requisite development of our will. Although we like the idea that everything falls into place automatically, the truth is we will have to get our hands dirty–and blistered–by good old-fashioned effort. As a professor in a major British university once told his class on the first day of the term: “In this course you will have to acquaint and accustom yourself to a venerable old four-letter Anglo-Saxon word: Work.” No glory without gore.

The inner orientation

He whose happiness is within, whose delight is within, whose illumination is within: that yogi, identical in being with Brahman, attains Brahmanirvana (5:24).

Over and over we need to keep reminding ourselves of this principle, for no matter how spiritual we may consider ourselves to be, we are so habituated to externality–often in the form of dogmas and religious observances–that we easily fall into the trap of materiality masquerading as spirituality. Continually we must check to see that our entire thought and life is oriented toward the inner kingdom of Spirit. Especially our meditation must be inward, ever inward, and so must be the focus of our awareness outside meditation. Only inward joy, inward peace, and inward vision fits us for the liberation of Nirvana.

The traits of liberation

Krishna now enumerates the traits of those who have entered Nirvana.

The seers whose evils have been annihilated, whose doubts have been dispelled, whose inner being is mastered, who rejoice in the welfare of all beings, attain Brahmanirvana (5:25).

Each thing listed here is easy to comprehend, but it is worth pointing out that the knowers of Brahman do not become abstracted or self-absorbed, unaware of the terrible suffering in the world. Just the opposite. They are filled with compassion and do what their inner guidance shows them to help those around them. In India the words saint and philanthropist are synonyms. My beloved friend Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh dedicated his entire life to the welfare of others. As his disciple Swami Chidananda has said, his every waking thought was how to benefit others. Daily I witnessed his abounding love toward everyone–not a theoretical love, but one which continually manifested in concrete ways. This is no exaggeration, as those who met him know. In Sivananda I saw every virtue lived to the maximum degree, but his loving mercy was the most evident. He was a perfect illustration of the next verse:

Released from desire and anger, with thoughts controlled, those ascetics who know the Self find very near to them the bliss of Brahmanirvana (5:26).

How it is done

This is all very fine, but how will we manage to reach such an exalted state? Krishna tells us:

Excluding outside contacts, turning up the eyes toward the two brows, equalizing the inhalation and exhalation moving within the nostrils, (5:27).

Earlier (4:29) I described the circling of the breath. That is what is meant here by equalizing the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Krishna advises to do this with the eyes turned upward “toward the two brows.” This is not focusing the gaze between the eyebrows as is often thought. That would strain the eyes. Once in the holy city of Naimasharanya I asked Sri Ma Anandamayi about certain aspects of meditation. She very forcefully told me that I must never focus the gaze between the eyebrows as that will strain and may even damage the eyes. Krishna wants us to simply look up as though looking toward a distant point. This is very helpful to cultivate awareness of the sahasrara chakra, the thousand petalled lotus in the head. But there must be no strain. (Sometimes the yogi will find his eyes naturally drawn upward, even with some intensity, but when it is spontaneous there is no detriment.)

The result

With his senses, mind and intellect controlled, with liberation as his highest aim, free from desire, fear, and anger: such a one is forever free. Having known me, the enjoyer of the tapasyas offered as sacrifice, the mighty Lord of all the world and the friend of all creatures, he attains peace (5:28, 29).

Not only is God the goal, he is also “the enjoyer of the tapasyas offered as sacrifice” engaged in on the way. Whoever engages in spiritual practice is already in touch with God, for it is God who makes us able to pursue spiritual life. God is not waiting for us at the end of the road, he is within us, walking the road along with us. For he is “the friend of all creatures.” Suhridam sarvabhutanam also means “the companion of all beings,” for God is seated in the hearts of all beings, living their lives along with them as the eternal witness. “I am the Self abiding in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings as well” (10:20). “The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, causing them by his maya to revolve as if mounted on a machine” (18:61).

How could we help but enter the peace of his presence, since that presence is ever within us?

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Goal of Karma Yoga

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

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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 Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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