A few verses further on from where we are at the moment Krishna says: “This, My Maya, made up of the three gunas, is difficult to penetrate” (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 [manas], intellect [buddhi] and egoism [ahankara]: this, My prakriti, is divided into eight parts” (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/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 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 [lesser] Prakriti, but know My other, higher Prakriti, consisting of spirit-beings, by which this universe is sustained [supported]” (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 that 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. 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, and 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.
“All creatures have their birth in this [Prakriti]. Understand this! I am the origin and also the dissolution of the entire universe” (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 Conscious and Divine Power. This is why in the book of Revelation we find: “I am Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13).
The Original Cause
“Nothing higher than Me exists. On Me all this universe is strung 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 become a yogi,” as Krishna counseled Arjuna.
And the Caused
Krishna develops these ideas, saying: “I am the taste [or: liquidity] in water, I am the radiance of moon and sun, the Pranava [Om] in all the Vedas, sound in the ether, and manliness in men” (7:8). The universe is often spoken of in Indian scriptures as an ocean of potential existence–the causal waters. Here this is its meaning–that God is the essence of the cosmos. Further, God is Light, of which the sun and moon are but glimmers.
Most important in this verse is the declaration that God is the Pranava–the Word of Life: Om, the Supreme Mantra–and further that God is 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].” Specifically, we are liberated by the sound of Om arising from our etheric body as we inwardly intone It in japa and meditation.
Also of importance is the factor paurusham nrishu: manliness, potency, virility, and courage in men. 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 in the fire, the life in all beings, and the austerity in 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. How easy!
“Know Me to be the primeval seed [primary cause] of all creatures. I am the intelligence of the intelligent, the splendor of the splendid am I” (7:10).
“I am the strength of the strong which is freed from lust [kama] and passion [raga]; and I am that desire in beings which is according to [consistent with] 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 wish 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.
The gunas–threads of the net
“Know that those states of being which are sattwic, rajasic, and tamasic 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 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.” The 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 universe is deluded by these three states of being, composed of 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 the plain truth about us.
Breaking free from the net
Now we come back to the verse cited at the beginning, but in its complete form: “Divine indeed is this My Maya composed of [or: produced by] the three gunas and difficult to penetrate [or: hard to go beyond. Only those who resort to [or: take refuge in] Me transcend this Maya” (7:14).
How do we take refuge in God? Not by religious acts or other pious gymnastics or by ascribing to dogmas. Since God is Consciousness, we take refuge by lifting 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 “divine indeed” 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 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, lowest of men, deprived of knowledge by delusion, do not seek Me, attached as they are to a demoniacal 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. 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 (a) God (Theos).
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Those Who Seek 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.
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Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary