A few verses further on from where we are at the moment Krishna says:
“Truly this divine illusion [maya] of mine made of the gunas is difficult to go beyond” (7:14).
Since time immemorial Maya has been referred to as a net such as is used for catching fish and birds. However hard it may be to break through this net, we must all do so in time, and the spiritually intelligent try to break through right now without delay. We need to understand the net very well. And so Krishna says:
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and ego-principle: these are the eight divisions of my prakriti (7:4).
Before we look closer at this listing, we must keep in mind that there are two Prakritis, the lower and higher, or the lesser and the greater. Everything mentioned in this verse is energy, because the lower Prakriti itself is Primal Energy or Power (Shakti). Everything that exists is energy, part of the lower Prakriti. What we have here is a listing of the lower Prakriti. Since mastership is our goal as yogis, Krishna is enumerating that which must be directly controlled through our yogic development. The list is short, but the challenge is long.
First we have the five primal elements (panchabhuta): earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Everything else is a combination of these five forms of energy (more accurately: five forms of behavior or arrangement of energy). The three remaining are “mirrors” of intelligence: mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahankara).
The manas is the sensory mind, the perceiving faculty that receives the messages of the senses. Buddhi is the intellect, the faculty of understanding and reason–the thinking mind. Ahankara is the feeling of “I am.” It is not the true Self–for the Self is pure wisdom and need not feel or think. Rather, it is the ego-sense, the intermediary between the Self and the bodies in which it is encased. Because it often takes over and blinds us to the Self, the ego is usually spoken of in a very negative sense. But without the ego the Self could not possibly operate through the energy-complex necessary for our evolution.
The manas sees a shape. The buddhi says: “That is a tree.” The ahankara concludes: “I am seeing a tree.” All experience, inner and outer, is processed by these three. In fact, most of us are confined to our experiences that proceed from them. However:
Behind it all
This is my lower prakriti, yet know my higher prakriti as consisting of all jivas [individual spirits], by which this world is sustained (7:5).
Prabhavananda: “You must understand that behind this, and distinct from it, is That which is the principle of consciousness in all beings, and the source of life in all. It sustains the universe.” This verse is not easy to translate, because the word jivabhutam can mean either “consisting of spirit-beings” or “the world of Spirit.” One means many spirits and the other only one Spirit. In truth, both are correct, as the universe exists solely through the presence within it of the many eternal, individualized consciousnesses. And of course it exists because it is the dream of Brahman–but it is our dream, too. God and the spirits are existing in a sublime unity incomprehensible to any but the enlightened. The lower Prakriti is energy, but the higher Prakriti is consciousness.
Everything Krishna says is vastly important, including this point. It is rather common for people to think that if they know the enemy or the adversary well they are going to easily come out the victor or the master. But this is not true when considering Maya, for Maya of itself is nothing, though it has a source and an enlivener. True, it has cut itself off from that source and has taken on a kind of independent life of its own, but that is its own illusion catching up with itself. The bedrock truth of all things is that behind and separate from them is the Primal Purusha, the Supreme Consciousness that is inseparable from all beings and the very Principle of the existence of all things, including our own jivatman, our own individual Self.
“The immortal Self is the sun shining in the sky, he is the breeze blowing in space, he is the fire burning on the altar, he is the guest dwelling in the house; he is in all men, he is in the gods, he is in the ether, he is wherever there is truth; he is the fish that is born in water, he is the plant that grows in the soil, he is the river that gushes from the mountain–he, the changeless reality, the illimitable!” (Katha Upanishad 2:2:2)
“Him the sun does not illumine, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor the lightning–nor, verily, fires kindled upon the earth. He is the one light that gives light to all. He shining, everything shines” (Katha Upanishad 2:2:15, Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.10).
It is this twofold-yet-one Primal Being that must be known if we are to elude the snare of Maya and transcend its influence forever. We must always have in mind the fact that the Reality behind the deluding appearance is the Infinite Self from which we draw our very existence. And I do not mean this in a merely intellectual fashion. It must be a knowing, a perception arising from the experience that is gained from intense sadhana alone.
Realize that these two prakritis are the wombs of all beings. Of this entire world I am the origin and the dissolution (7:6).
To know Maya truly we must know the Lord of Maya, Ishwara, for they are inseparably united. We must shake ourselves awake from the dream of separation. Part of knowing ourselves consists in experiential awareness of our origin: Prakriti united with Purusha. This is why the concepts of Heaven-Father and Heaven-Mother are central to any intuition-based spiritual view. One without the other is nonsense. Even in the Upanishads which so emphasize the transcendent aspect of reality that can be symbolized as Father, the necessity of the Mother is found. (See the third chapter of the Kena Upanishad.)
As Prakriti the Parampurusha is the womb which brings all things into being and dissolves them as well. Sri Ramakrishna told of having a vision in which he saw a woman in labor give birth to a child and then after a short while eat it completely. At first he was shocked, but then he realized that what he was seeing was a symbol of the ways of Prakriti. Expansion and contraction, manifestation and dissolution, beginning and ending–all are manifestations of divine consciousness and Divine Power. This is why in the book of Revelation we find: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending” (Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13).
The Original Cause
Than me there is nothing higher. All this creation is strung on me like pearls on a thread (7:7).
This means that there is no source or cause beyond Brahman, that all things proceed from It, that It is the substratum, the support, of all being, of all worlds. Brahman is the essential being of all. Therefore It is called the Sutratman, the “Thread-Self,” with this verse in mind. Whatever its apparent character, everything we perceive or experience is ultimately Brahman alone. This is almost impossible to maintain as an intellectual concept throughout our daily life, but it can be experienced in meditation and carried over into our life. Without yoga the ideal of the Gita is unattainable. “Therefore be a yogi,” as Krishna counseled Arjuna.
And the Caused
Krishna develops these ideas, saying:
I am the taste within water, the radiance of the moon and the sun; the Pranava [Om] in all the Vedas, the sound in the ether and the manhood in men (7:8).
The universe is often spoken of in Indian scriptures as an ocean of potential existence–the causal waters. Here its meaning is that God is the essence of the cosmos. Further, God is Light, of which the sun and moon are but hints. And he is also Sound (shabda) itself which arises from the element of ether (akasha). Therefore, as Vyasa concludes in the final verse of the Brahma Sutras: “By sound one becomes liberated [anavrittih shabdai].”
Also of importance is the factor paurusham nrishu: manliness, potency, virility, and courage in human beings. This is very significant, for these words, unlike some expressions of the Gita, carry no connotation of gender, but of humanity in general. All of us, whether male or female in body, must manifest the essential powers of humanity, including the courage that such a manifestation requires. In other words, God is manifesting as the power and determination that is so needful for perfection in yoga.
Lest I seem in this commentary to put too much emphasis on yoga, please do not forget that at the end of every one of its chapters the Gita is described as “The Science of the Eternal, the Scripture of Yoga.”
I am the pure fragrance in the earth, and the brilliance within fire; the life in all beings, and the tapasya of ascetics (7:9).
Brahman is the very living earth and the yoga of yogis. God is present in tapas, so let us be perpetual tapaswins and be ever-present with God.
Know that I am the eternal seed of all beings, the intelligence of the intelligent, and the splendor of the splendid (7:10).
Since God is “the eternal seed of all beings,” there can be no other view than that all things, all beings, are part of God.
I am the strength of the strong, free from desire and passion. I am the desire in beings that is according to dharma (7:11).
This final clause is extremely important. Desire (kama) is spoken of unfavorably throughout the Gita, but it is impossible to live without desire. When we eat we desire to gain strength, when we study we desire knowledge, when we are kind we desire to comfort and sustain–is this wrong? No. When Krishna speaks disapprovingly of desire he means an ego-centered force that clouds the intelligence and impels the will to unreason. In other words, he is speaking of desire that is not an act of intelligent will but a product of egoic passion, and therefore of delusion. But desire that does not abrogate or contravene our nature as the eternal Self is a manifestation of divinity in us and is to be honored and followed. This is important to know since ignoramuses in Asia (not just India) like to ask: “But isn’t the desire for enlightenment and liberation a desire, too?” In this way they hope to silence the wise who are exposing their ignorance in the form of their desires.
The gunas–threads of the net
Know that sattwic, rajasic and tamasic states of being proceed from me. But I am not in them–they are in me (7:12).
The major strands of the Mayic Net in its external constitution are the three gunas. And having said that I realize that nowhere in these essays have I really discussed the three gunas, waiting for the section where they are discussed by Krishna. But that will not be until the fourteenth chapter, so I had better outline them here.
In A Brief Sanskrit Glossary found on our website–which I recommend you download or purchase and use for reference–the following is the definition for Guna:
“Quality, attribute, or characteristic arising from nature (Prakriti) itself; a mode of energy behavior. As a rule, when ‘guna’ is used it is in reference to the three qualities of Prakriti, the three modes of energy behavior that are the basic qualities of nature, and which determine the inherent characteristics of all created things. They are: 1) sattwa–purity, light, harmony; 2) rajas–activity, passion; and 3) tamas–dullness, inertia, and ignorance.”
That covers it quite well. Some of the implications we can leave for comment when we come to the fourteenth chapter. There is no form of energy manifestation that cannot be put into one of these three categories, though they may also be of mixed character so that an object is only predominantly in one of these classifications.
Nothing is random or “unto itself.” Rather, everything proceeds from Brahman, for Prakriti itself is merely a “thought” of Brahman Who is one with all. All is contained in Brahman, but Brahman is not contained in them. This principle enables us to not fall into the error of thinking that God is nothing but the sum total of all things. Instead, all things are God, who yet remains separate from them. For Krishna next says:
All this world is deluded by the three states produced by the gunas. It does not perceive me, who am higher than these and eternal (7:13).
We, too, through the practice of yoga meditation must regain the truth of our being. For we also stand apart from all that we experience. We, too, are supreme and deathless. This is the glory of the Eternal Dharma: it tells us the plain truth about ourselves.
Breaking free from the net
Now we come back to the verse cited at the beginning, but in its complete form:
Truly this maya of mine made of the gunas is difficult to go beyond. Verily only those who attain me shall pass beyond this maya (7:14).
How do we attain God? Not by religious acts or other pious gymnastics or by ascribing to dogmas. Since God is Consciousness, we take refuge by elevating and merging our consciousness into the divine consciousness, henceforth to live in Divine Unity. This is the goal. This is salvation. But in the meantime, Maya is truly divine, for its purpose is our evolution beyond its bonds.
But, since duality is fundamental to existence on this earth, there are those who do not break through Maya, for they do not take refuge in the divine consciousness that is really their own consciousness. Rather than move upward into the light, they burrow down and down into the dark. Of them Krishna says:
Evil-doers, the lowest of men, bereft of knowledge by maya, do not seek me, being attached to (existing within) a demonic mode of existence (7:15).
A ladder, a stairway, and even a mountain have one thing in common: they can be ascended or descended. So it is with the cosmos, with Maya, the shared dream of both God and sentient beings. Those who do wrong–especially those who knowingly do wrong–become ever more willfully deluded by Maya (we all know people who fool themselves). Since they are resisting the sole purpose of human incarnation–ascent in consciousness–they are the lowest of beings, since they seek the lowest rungs of the evolutionary ladder. Such persons will never seek God, though some will be avowed atheists, others agnostics, others middling religious and others (the worst of all) zealously religious but without any spiritual consciousness or conscience whatsoever. Such persons, though in human form, live the life of demons–asuras: those who dwell in darkness. Since God is Light they are the truest atheists: those without God (a Theos).
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Those Who Seek God