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 look equally upon a learned and accomplished brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and an eater of dogs” (5:18).
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 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 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.
There are ashrams in India where they pretend to embody this verse. What they do is 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.
Living in Brahman
“Even here on earth, rebirth is conquered by those whose mind is established in equality [same-sightedness]. Brahman is without defect and truly equal [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 rejoice upon attaining what is liked, nor should one shudder upon attaining what is unliked. With firm intellect [buddhi], undeluded, knowing Brahman, one 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 sensations, who finds happiness in the Self, whose Self is united with Brahman through yoga, reaches imperishable happiness” (5:21).
“Pleasures born of contact, indeed, are wombs [sources] of pain, since they have a beginning and an end [are not eternal]. The wise man does not delight in 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) 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 [impetus] that arises from desire and anger, is steadfast in yoga; he is 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 an old four-letter Anglo-Saxon word: Work.” No glory without gore.
The inner orientation
“He who has happiness within, delight within, and consequently has light within, this yogi, absorbed in Brahman, attains Brahma Nirvana” (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 must be 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 destroyed, whose doubts have been cut away, whose selves are restrained, 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 manifested in concrete ways continually. This is no exaggeration, as those who met him know. In Sivananda I saw every possible virtue lived to the maximum degree, but his loving mercy was the most evident. He was a perfect illustration of the next verse: “To those ascetics who have cast aside desire and anger, whose thought is controlled, who are knowers of the Self, Brahmanirvana exists everywhere [literally: lies near–is ever-present]” (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:
“Expelling outside contacts and fixing the gaze between the two eyebrows, equalizing the inhalation and exhalation, moving within the nostrils…” (5:27).
In meditation we close our eyes, and breathe through our nose, aware of the breath as it flows in and out naturally, and intoning the sacred syllable Om once as we inhale, and once as we exhale. (See Introduction to Pranava Yoga and Pranava Yoga.)
“Uttering Om, the single-syllable Brahman, meditating on Me, he…goes to the Supreme Goal” (8:13).
“The sage whose highest aim is liberation [moksha], whose senses, mind, and intellect are controlled, from whom desire, fear, and anger have departed, is forever liberated. Having known Me, the enjoyer of sacrificial austerities, the Mighty Lord of all the world, the Friend [Companion] of all beings, he attains peace” (5:28, 29).
Not only is God the goal, he is also “the enjoyer of sacrificial austerities” 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 with them as the eternal witness.
“I am the Self abiding in the hearts of all beings; and I am the beginning and the middle of beings, and the end as well” (10:20). “The Lord abides in the hearts of all being, causing all beings to revolve, by the power of Maya, as if fixed 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
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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