Finite minds cannot really comprehend the Infinite. Yet, even a dim idea will be of inestimable value to them in their spiritual seeking. Krishna is now about to explain the fundamentals of Infinite Being in relation to finite creation and the finite beings within it.
All this world is pervaded by me in my unmanifest aspect. All beings dwell within me, but I do not dwell within them (9:4).
It is a mistake to think of creation and Spirit as two layers or levels of reality like oil and water. Rather, Unmanifest Spirit (Avyakta) pervades everything. There is no point of existence where Spirit is not. On the other hand, there is the vast realm of Spirit in which there is nothing–or no thing–at all. Spirit pervades matter, but matter does not pervade Spirit. Nevertheless, there is an intimate connection between the two, for all relative existence exists within the Unmanifest.
The word translated “dwell” is sthani, meaning a place of residence. Krishna is saying that all beings abide in the Unmanifest, for It is the basis of their existence. Without the Unmanifest they would not exist. But the Unmanifest Spirit does not depend upon those beings–It would remain unchanged if they ceased to exist.
Krishna’s purpose is to give us an order of priority. Spirit is not only first, it is all-encompassing. If we attain Spirit we will attain mastery over relativity. But if we only possess relative matter we will be nothing in the ultimate sense.
And yet beings do not dwell within me: behold my Divine Yoga. Sustaining beings and yet not dwelling in them, I myself cause all beings to come into manifestation (9:5).
Krishna is giving a profound teaching here. Created things, including relative existence itself, never touch Spirit. In the same way, our energy bodies never touch our Self.
If that is so, then how does creation exist? For I have said that it not only exists, it exists within God (Brahman). Creation is also called Maya–Cosmic Illusion. Creation exists within Brahman as a mirage, an illusion. A mirage is real, but what is seen (water, buildings, etc.) is not. Maya is like a motion picture. The epic begins, unfolds, and ends, but really nothing has taken place. We were just watching images that were only light moving on a background. It was all an illusion. We could not see the motion picture if it was not projected onto a neutral background. We see the movie of Maya projected onto the background of Consciousness. Neither the background of the movie screen or that of Consciousness are in anyway really touched or affected by the images. But without the screens there would be no movie or creation.
Moving within the Unmoving
As mighty winds move everywhere, yet always dwell in the ether, know that even so do all beings dwell within me (9:6)
Incredible as the continual changes in creation are, and the untold numbers of life-dramas perpetually unfolding with it, it all takes place within God, the sense of independence and separation being totally illusory. The realization of this frees us from all fear.
Relativity cannot exist without an infinite chain of dualities. Creation takes place in a series of manifestations and dissolutions. Krishna described this in the previous chapter. Referring back to this, he says about all sentient beings:
At the end of a kalpa, all beings merge into my Prakriti: at the beginning of another kalpa, I myself send them forth (9:7).
At the end of a kalpa–Day of Brahma–all those remaining in relativity merge into the primordial matter, or prakriti, and enter a state of dreamless sleep. Then, when an equally long Night of Brahma has ended, they emerge from that sleep and continue on their evolutionary way.
Resting on my Prakriti, I send forth again and again this entire multitude of beings, helpless under Prakriti’s power (9:8).
This evokes the popular image of Shesh-Narayan (Vishnu) resting upon (sometimes rising from) the ocean of primal energy (prakriti) as the source of all worlds and the beings within them. All beings are “helpless” in this process because they have no will or choice in the matter, only the impetus of their karma from previous lives.
The divine actor
The Divine is at the root of all action, and without the Divine no action can take place. Yet Krishna says:
And these acts do not bind me, sitting as one apart, indifferent and unattached in these actions (9:9).
The same is true of our immortal Self. Spirit is never touched, but is the silent, actionless witness of all that goes on.
How, then, do we have karma? We do not. But within the dream of Maya we experience it as such. Consider how in a dream you do so many things and undergo the consequences, yet it is only images, unreal. I have heard of people actually experiencing pain or nausea after awakening from dreams in which pain or nausea occurred. God has given us these dreams to teach us the truth about our greater span of life on earth. As Prabhavananda’s very interpretive translation says: “Do not say: ‘God gave us this delusion.’ You dream you are the doer, you dream that action is done, you dream that action bears fruit. It is your ignorance, it is the world’s delusion that gives you these dreams” (5:14).
Let us awake!
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers