IX and X are at the apex of the grand arch of the Gita. While the proclamation
of a secret science may be off-putting to some, the secrets contained are open
to all. They are secrets only in the way that many advanced textbooks in
physics or mathematics are incomprehensible to the casual reader. You must
first study and learn the field, and then they will make perfect sense. It is
impossible to serve complex wisdom on a cafeteria platter. And the teachings
are scientific only in the sense that they do not depend on anything being
accepted on faith. The Gita is much more a philosophical treatise than a
all the sound psychological advice found in this chapter, the primary secret is
the Absolute itself. Humans endlessly speculate and surmise about the nature of
reality in their philosophies, sciences and religions, but these are all
secondhand versions of God, as Buckminster Fuller would have it, useful up to a
point and often quite interesting, but not quite the real thing. Only when we
have a direct experience of the Absolute can it be revealed in all (or even a
meaningful portion of) its glory. As was said of Jesus and his Sermon on the
Mount, “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matt.
7.29) He knew the spirit beyond the letter. Arjuna is approaching such a
unitive experience very rapidly now.
commentators are so excited about the crowning or royal secret part of the
title that they miss the dialectic of the whole. A secret is basically what is
unknown. A royal science teaches, or consists of, what is known. At this apex
of the Gita, the Known and the Unknown achieve a parity or bipolarity where
each permeates the other. The Unknown stimulates and infuses the quest for
greater awareness, and the Known expands toward and delights in the infinite
potential of the Unknown, which it is ever exploring.
you indeed who do not mistrust I shall declare this profound secret of wisdom
together with its applied aspects, by knowing which you shall be freed from
what savors of evil.
IX begins with a key secret regarding the bipolarity that reveals the Absolute.
Krishna addresses Arjuna as one who does not mistrust him. In order to
assimilate the pure teaching of a master, all possible misunderstandings and
mistrust must be overcome. If there is the slightest doubt remaining, the
seeker’s ego will always divert their attention when the chips are down, in
order to retain control. Doubt is necessarily a dualistic state of mind, and
thus wholly inimical to unitive awareness.
trust is an exceedingly rare state of affairs, as it should be. History is
filled with the tragedies of those who trusted where they should have doubted,
and were subsequently led to their doom by exploitive religious and political
leaders. It is more than a cliché that trust must be earned and not granted credulously.
But for those few who have achieved a time-tested bipolarity, direct wisdom
transmission is possible. Arjuna is now on the verge of receiving an oceanic
vision from Krishna requiring exquisite rapport between them.
tales still need to be brought in, and the ancient rishis must have been as
familiar with the perils of surrendering one’s sovereignty to another as we are
in the present. Indeed, one of the central themes of the Gita is Arjuna’s
realization of his loss of contact with his dharma, his true calling, through
social pressures, and his struggle to reclaim it. He trusted where he should
have doubted, and got into serious trouble, as his life became confining
instead of liberating.
relationship of guru and disciple must weather many storms. The seeker is
treading the razor’s edge of questioning everything the guru says while
maintaining good faith. Having an underpinning of trust means that when the
teacher says something that hurts the disciple’s feelings, instead of thinking
the guru is being cruel or stupid, you presume there is meaning in the apparent
madness. You accept the rebuke, then turn to yourself and examine how it
applies and why it hurts, with an eye to making necessary improvements. The
ordinary response is to guard the wound and defend it, and since it is the ego
that gets wounded, that is also what is being defended. Then the teacher is
rejected as an assailant, and the learning process comes to an end. In Gurukula
parlance this is known as disadoption.
this stage Arjuna has worked through the exacting business of establishing real
trust with a true guru by his pointed questioning and careful listening throughout
the first half of the Gita. With all his doubts allayed, he is as ready as
possible for what is to come. Little does he know that he is going to be
terrified to the depths of his soul when he catches a glimpse of Krishna’s true
nature. It will require every bit of trust he has in his heart to stand firm
and not run from the sight.
wholehearted trust has been achieved, Krishna can teach Arjuna how to become
emancipated from “what savors of evil.” Notice that Krishna doesn’t rail
against evil, as ordinary gods do in many religions, because the Absolute takes
no cognizance of it. He is responding precisely to Arjuna’s dilemma, which is
being caught on the horns of good and evil. Formerly some things appeared
(savored of) evil to Arjuna, but now he is breaking free of such false notions.
additional secret here in this verse is that pure and practical wisdom, taken
together in dialectical synthesis, yield the state of mind that is free of
dualistic considerations like good and evil. This should make perfect sense to
anyone who has been paying attention to what Krishna has been expounding up to
this point. To bring such antinomies creatively together, they must be unified
in the Absolute. The subtleties involved are now going to be presented,
culminating in the highest teaching of all in verse 34, at the exact center of
issue of trust has a much wider application than just between guru and
disciple, as there are several other situations in life where it is exceedingly
important and is at least a preliminary goal. We can think of marital and other
love relationships, parent/child, the psychotherapeutic bond, and
even—reflecting the Gita’s exterior context—that between a soldier and their
superior officers. Politicians live or die based on the public trust in the
image they are able to project.
relationships invariably require some degree of trust between participants. As
noted, the liberating ideal of the Gita is a reciprocal bipolarity between the
participants, which is only possible after a very high degree of trust has been
achieved. The idea is to merge the two unequal partners without reservation
into a central numinous verity, embodying a movement from duality to unity. In it,
two people with divergent needs and value visions have to come to an accord
where they fully understand and accept each other. By contrast, friendship or
partnership between equals can also flourish in the absence of intimate polarity,
so long as the equality is agreed upon as a foundational principle. Military
and business ventures, for example, being intentionally less dynamic, are
grounded in this type of formal agreement.
expectations of trust are very rarely met. While efforts are normally made in
all the above relationships, or else they begin in loving amity as with
children, very often there is a betrayal at some stage, followed by a buildup
of privately held resentments. These may well be guarded from the partner, even
while accompanied by protestations of complete honesty and openness. To make
matters worse, the areas we guard from public view become invisible even to
ourselves, over time, and then they act as subversive unconscious motivators.
trust often exists between a child and its mother, and sometimes other
caregivers. Once this intimate connection is disrupted in the normal course of maturation,
it is suppressed every time it starts to redevelop because of the ego’s fear of
disappointment. Yet a profound longing for the blissful early state of
interpersonal union remains below the surface. If trust is ever reestablished
in any other context, an outpouring of the languishing loving feelings ensues,
which can free the soul and heal its wounds. This may well be the fundamental
basis of religious sentiments, by the way. And of course it sometimes bursts
out to become attached to inappropriate love objects as well, as in the diseases
of patriotism or drug addiction, for instance.
parasites frequently offer themselves as substitute parental figures in order
to benefit from their victims’ misplaced trust. Political leaders and religious
figures, including many who are misnamed as gurus, routinely fill the bill.
This issue will be further examined in verse 12 below.
far the most common form of reciprocal relationship nowadays is not guru and
disciple, but marriage between two partners, predominantly but not necessarily
male and female. The ideal of marriage in its modern guise offers the promise
of trust, but too often the trust that develops within its confines is a
reflection of the parental bond, laden with unhealthy dependencies. It produces
a projection of the parent onto the spouse. Resentments often erupt when the
partner, sensing the projections, intuits that the trust given is not perfectly
authentic. Once the fairytale trust of marriage (or any other relationship) is
broken it is very difficult to mend.
the inception of marriage there is a potentially serious flaw in respect to
bipolarity. With a guru and disciple, one is wise and one is seeking wisdom, so
there is a degree of deference involved, but in marriage, particularly a first
marriage, both partners hold the position of the inexperienced disciple. It is
a bipolarity between neophytes, with no guru figure at hand; charming perhaps,
but perilous. To make up for this lack, social conventions invest the male with
an ersatz guru role, for which he is largely unprepared. He is put in charge of
the relationship, and the female arbitrarily made his subordinate, with only
minimal serious instruction—and much frivolous instruction—on how to develop a
meaningful partnership. Often the model revolves around maintaining control and
dominance, instead of moving toward a meeting in a central ground of equality.
The male therefore often acts like a nervous martinet, with the ludicrousness
of his position only underwritten by an imaginary “God’s will.” This is a
guaranteed recipe for inflating the immature male ego to a dangerous degree,
which is highly destructive of any healthy route to a dynamic marriage
better model would acknowledge the ignorance of both partners, and direct them
to support each other in a lifelong learning process, including input from beyond
the borders of the family. Marriage would be a journey together, with doors
open to share insights and increase trust, in place of the mounting resentment
engendered by artificial strictures. An unstructured beginning regarding roles
would allow both partners to find their most suitable dharma, easing into
patterns of their own choosing and predisposition, with compromises and
accommodations made on both sides. Life itself could be viewed as the guru
principle, and in different circumstances one or the other partner would take
the lead. When their egos get out of balance, as they always do, there would be
only a desire to rebalance, instead of one ego drawing its justification from
scripture or tradition and going on a power trip, seeking to “win” the conflict
rather than resolve it intelligently.
a model would do much for the parent/child relationship as well. No matter how
unprepared they are, many parents feel empowered as dictators to discipline
their children at the drop of a hat, “for their own good,” instead of becoming
wise judges who explore the nuances of situations with their temporary charges.
Going by hard and fast rules means forgoing opportunities for growth on both
sides of the equation, while pursuing an open heart and a thoughtful and kind
mind permits learning from every occasion, whether positive or negative.
Trusting your child means not assuming they are born evil, but that their
intentions are honorable, which at least at the outset they are. After all,
like everything, children are comprised of nothing more or less than the
Absolute through and through. One of the most corrosive beliefs to afflict
humanity is that children are born sinners, and being treated that way very
quickly motivates them to fulfill the prophecy. The Vedantic insight that all
beings are equal participants in the Absolute is the perfect antidote.
any relationship moves from trust to a guarded display of socially acceptable
interactions, true love and freedom are lost. The relationship becomes a game
of thrust and parry, instead of mutual sharing and benefit. The child begins to
hold back from complete honesty with the parents, giving birth to the ego. The
marriage becomes a hotbed of secret disappointments. The therapist begins to
hear canned ideas in place of fresh associations. And once soldiers lose faith
in their commanding officers, as in a war where the true motives are disguised
with lies, they consequently lose the will to fight and may even kill their own
these situations and many more could benefit from the Gita’s suggestions. A
healthy bipolar relationship can only grow out of mutual trust and respect, for
which honesty and openness are essential building blocks. The perception of
dishonesty or a selfish agenda in one’s partner produces so much doubt that the
relationship may be permanently poisoned. The problem is exponentially
magnified in a society where self-interest and dishonesty are the assumed basis
of all transactions.
true guru would never betray a disciple’s trust. Like the ideal mother or
marriage partner, they do not take recourse in selfishness but are always
available with precisely what the situation calls for. In fact the betrayal of
trust is all too often the only way imposters are exposed, after the damage is
wonder Krishna pointed out earlier that only one in a million understands this.
Krishna and Arjuna have achieved a very rare and exemplary goal: a
perfect-enough bipolarity in which the trust in each other is fully justified.
science, crowning secret, purificatory is this, superior, objectively
verifiable, conforming to right living, very easy to live, and subject to no
noted in the introduction to this chapter, royal science and crowning secret
are a matched pair for dialectic synthesis. The Sanskrit word is raja in both
cases. It is usually translated as royal, but it comes from a root that means
to illuminate, make radiant; and also to be illustrious, resplendent. The
chapter could just as easily be called “Resplendent science, radiant secret.”
MW (the dictionary) significantly adds “anything the best or chief of its
kind.” Royal thus indicates the top of the heap, the highest value of all. Just
as throughout the middle section of the Gita Krishna indicates the supreme position
of the Absolute within various lesser conditions, here he presents it as the
highest of the high. It is buoyed up by a string of attractive adjectives that
we should touch on here.
off, this wisdom is said to be purifying. Knowledge is most pure when it is
directed to seek the truth of the mystery of God, Nature, or more accurately the
Absolute. A prime example of what this means is the scientific revolution of
the Renaissance, when a more accurate interpretation of the cosmos supplanted a
dead theology that had stultified much of the world for centuries. Brave
thinkers had to risk and sometimes forfeit their lives to break through the
crust of habitual beliefs held in place by torture and other forms of coercion.
The conflict between guardians of static ideologies and liberating visionaries
has not yet been put to rest in our time. It appears to be a perennial dance of
progress followed by consolidation, eventually becoming set in legal stone, and
then once again being rejuvenated by a breakthrough.
knowledge gradually becomes impure when mixed with ordinary, everyday values in
which compromises have to be made. We water down our ideals so we can compete
in the marketplace, and grow a tough hide to ward off the icy blasts of hostile
interactions. Most people become vestigial human beings after some years of
this. By redirecting our minds to the living core we can revivify our
existence, and the infusion of fresh energy it provides allows us to slough off
our dead skin of unquestioned beliefs. In this sense, bringing the critical
scrutiny of yoga to bear is not only purifying, it is the most superior way of
literally represents the Unknown, no matter how many may claim to know what it
is. Many religions advocate a fear of God, and as a consequence instill the
fear of the Unknown in their adherents. A psychological padlock is placed on
the portals of heaven, right below the No Admission Unless Dead sign. Unlike
the fearful religions, the Gita urges us to plunge in and bathe in the mystery,
which is the source of the highest joy of living. The very meaning and purpose
of being created is to revel in the unending panoply of possibilities that can
be actualized, or to put it simply, to be completely, utterly alive. Being
alive is the antidote to the inhibitions wrought by fear, and this is the very
state of mind that purifies and reorients our outlook.
those ancient stories about bringing the dead back to life are not dealing with
reanimating corpses, they are referring to the spiritual experience of learning
how to return to life from the living death of fear-induced immobility. The
Gita’s royal science thus teaches us how to “raise the dead.” It’s not nearly
as weird as it sounds. We simply have to remove our self-imposed mental
barriers to diving into the Unknown so we can take the plunge.
the wisdom is said to be superior. Of course, in many religions superior means
above or better than something else, widening the discrepancy between the
antinomies, and that can’t be the sense here. A unitive system has no
hierarchies. The Absolute pervades everything, and its precise (though incomprehensible)
status in this regard has been meticulously presented in previous chapters, and
is about to be stated with finality. Yet even here, very close to the moment of
ultimate revelation, there are degrees mentioned of progressive attunement with
the Absolute as opposed to dwelling in ignorance. Superior then refers to the
closest possible merger with excellence. It is not used in comparison with
other versions of perfection, since they are all one, only in contradistinction
is never to be equated with exclusivity. Nataraja Guru says in this regard,
“The teaching becomes royal in the sense that a public road may be said to be
royal, or belonging to the kingdom, and thus open to all who choose to walk on
it. It is not reserved for the chosen few.”
Gita’s wisdom is also claimed to be objectively verifiable. Obviously there is
no laboratory experiment possible to test metaphysical verities. Verification
comes through the self-evidence of feeling mentally invigorated. Life becomes
joyful when it is properly comprehended, when our actions are in harmony with
our inner dynamics. There is no requirement to accept any imaginary notions on
faith; the joy of living springs from direct experience and understanding. That
is the only objective verification possible. Since yoga works, and we can know
it works, its efficacy does not have to be taken on faith.
to right living,” tells us that this is not some strange, esoteric practice
that has to be performed in cloistered surroundings. It unfolds right in the
midst of everyday life. An understanding divorced from ordinary reality is
useless and absurd, though oddly much academic philosophy is specifically based
in an imaginary behavioral vacuum. Such irrelevance falls outside the Gita’s
intent. Every aspect of life is embraced by its yoga. Nor are there “dirty” parts
that have to be hidden away from an all-seeing god, while “holy” ones are
paraded around like troops on a drill ground. Beliefs like these splinter the
psyche and cause mental distress. If there were a god witnessing such antics,
she would certainly be disdainful of them, and not at all impressed. Our own
inner sensibility feels the same way.
wisdom in question is “easy to live” not only since there are no strenuous
practices involved, but simply because it is fun to be alive. The easiness is
due to not having any complicated program to carry out, but thinking of life
itself as the program. It is simply a matter of applying our best insights to
each situation as it appears before us, dealing with it directly and not as a
member of any defined sect, but solely as a uniquely talented human being:
namely ourself. The expertise required can be compared to any of the activities
where as you get better they become easier and easier. Riding a bicycle is a
fine example. It’s a little frightening at first, as you overbalance to one
side or the other, learning to steer. Without training wheels you might fall
over, or else you forget how to stop and bump into something. But once you
catch on you can zoom along taking in the sights, filled with exhilaration.
is an even better example, because there are no training wheels and it’s more
complicated and dangerous than cycling. Until you get the hang of it, the waves
repeatedly wipe you out. But eventually you master all the skills, and the joy
of riding the surf replaces the fear of drowning. Or how about the new job.
You’re afraid of being fired. Everybody looks strange and hostile, and you feel
out of place. But as you get to know them they become friends and allies. You
find you can easily do the tasks, and your supervisor is happy to have you on
board. It becomes a joy to express your talents at work. Soon you may be
promoted because of your expertise. All these separate activities have the same
principle at heart as learning the science of the Absolute. It is a joy to share
your pleasure in living with everyone you meet, subtly, without ever making it
an overt issue. No heavy-handed evangelizing is intended. You teach by example,
your joy infectious. There is no call to sell your particular point of view to
anyone. Your own relaxed happiness is the only advertisement.
has also an implicit contrast with ways that are hard, ways that abound in
observances and rules that must be carefully followed. Very often in those
systems, denying yourself things is seen as meritorious and “spiritual.” You do
what you’re supposed to do, not what you’re inclined to do, and that will theoretically
lead you to enlightenment. Surely many of our unexamined inclinations are
habitual and short-sighted, but the flip side is that by following a dogmatic
spiritual program we are merely upgrading our subordination to social
strictures. We should not underestimate the ego’s ability to co-opt any
endeavor without us even noticing. For instance, in following a strict regimen
we may soon come to feel that the denial of pleasures is a very superior thing
that “we” are “doing,” and we’re right back where we started. Worse, the
spiritual ego, being more self-conscious than the social ego, is more deeply
entrenched and harder to wrest contemplative distance from. We passionately identify
with it, employing all our individually focused energy and defending it with
all our wiles. The ego strives valiantly to remain in charge, even as it
pretends to relinquish command to a higher power. After all, isn’t spiritual
perfection the best thing a human can attain, unassailably wonderful? In this
way spirituality can become the ultimate defense policy for the ego. This is a
virtually insoluble problem for a solitary seeker, striving without the aid of
a guru to show them how to lighten up and let go.
a living, dynamic presence, the guru can countervail all attempts for the ego
to “hold the fort.” Yet where an established program is in place, the
guru-substitute will likely prescribe a generic antidote that subtly bolsters
the ego. One of the largest meditation peddlers in America offers a secret
mantra, specially tailored by an initiate to each (paying) seeker. You are
enjoined to not ever tell anyone your secret mantra, or it will lose its power,
and who knows what evil might ensue. A friend of mine was once in a group that
dared to break the taboo. Timidly at first, and then with a rush, they
discovered they all had exactly the same mantra. Needless to say, there is no
dynamic interaction in such a program. The seeker has become another form of
consumer to be handed a bill of goods. One thing was true, however: the mantras
lost whatever power they had once they had been told to others.
mantras is one of the many “hard” ways, requiring lots of repetition. It is a
form of self-hypnosis. While self-hypnosis probably has some benefits, it also
has some dangers, such as susceptibility to manipulation or auto-suggestion.
The Gita is opposed to stupefying yourself by any means. It is all about waking
up. It does mention chanting aum on certain occasions, and the science related
to that is discussed in VIII, 12.
the insight gained is “subject to no decrease.” Krishna reminds us that, unlike
merit-based systems, direct contact with the Absolute does not lessen over time,
and is not spoiled by mistakes. Wisdom is not something that can ever be taken
away or forfeited. You don’t stiffen up as you do when you take a break from
Hatha Yoga. It’s not like weakening your breath when you stop running every
day. You don’t have to start over from the beginning if you miss your
meditation time, or forget how many prayer beads you have counted. Wisdom is
permanent. What you truly realize, you realize for all time.
without wholehearted faith-affiliation to this way of right living, not
attaining to Me, return to the paths of mortality and cyclic repetition of
has been made clear in previous chapters, Krishna is a symbol for the Absolute.
It is essential to remember throughout the Gita that when he speaks of himself
he is referring to the Absolute, not any temporary form it might have taken.
into a successful relationship, up to and including one with the Absolute,
requires not holding back. The instant an experience is mediated by the ego,
the potential for transcendence is erased, and things begin to go awry.
Inwardly, achieving trust is a little like jumping out of an airplane wearing a
parachute. Doubts and fears, all of them to varying degrees “legitimate,” hold
you back, but you gather your trust in the supportive device until you can
finally make the leap.
away we are presented with a great secret. If we can have a wholehearted
affiliation with the Absolute, life is an ever new experience. We cannot step
into the same river twice. But lacking that awareness, we tend toward
repetition and dullness. Our egos take over from the Mystery as the driving
force of our lives, but our stewardship is fatally flawed by our limited
apprehensions. At our best we can only imagine a tiny fraction of what is really
going on around us. Our amplitude diminishes. Soon we may become like walking
couch potatoes, semi-alert spectators of other people’s mediocre
entertainments. One day follows another in a chain of emptiness. We repeat
behaviors that once gave us a thrill, to try and regain that sense of being
alive, but we are operating on memory and it fails to ignite the flame.
the Gita speaks of transcending reincarnation or rebirth, it is something along
these lines. Being alive is a fine thing, and we should not be in any hurry to
bring it to a conclusion. We are made to express exquisite potentials to the
best of our abilities, to live life to the full. So if we can be “reincarnated”
to a new life without starting over from scratch as a baby, it’s not to be
eschewed. What we do want to avoid is repetitive, canned, life-substitutes, or
what is sometimes called living in one’s head. When Krishna scorns
reincarnation as he does here, he is referring to our tendency to live from
memory, to follow our well-worn habit patterns like lab rats negotiating a maze.
Each time a memory is recalled it loses a generation, eventually becoming a
memory of a memory of a memory of a memory. To the extent we remain alive at
all in that state, it is by imaging the merest whiff of previous experiences.
The only escape from this house of mirrors is to reconnect with the living
truth of the Absolute. When the Gita speaks of not returning any more, this is
what it means, and as such it is a worthy goal indeed.
Me all this world is pervaded, My form unmanifested; all beings have existence
in Me and I do not have existence in them.
and the next verse erase any easy conceptualization in relation to the
Absolute. A mystery is only enchanting if it remains a mystery, and this is one
you can ponder forever without resolving it. We’re talking about the royal
mystery of the Absolute. Regardless of how much understanding we have achieved,
there is an infinite amount yet to be learned.
essence of the mystery as expressed here is that the Absolute pervades beings
and they exist in it, but it does not take on their form even as it pervades
them. That means it does not ever become embodied, though all bodies are
representatives of it. In the next verse, Krishna will compound the bafflement
by adding that beings don’t truly exist in it, either, meaning they exist in
the Absolute but cannot epitomize it in any way. In that sense it is a mystery
that can never be laid bare. And yet the more intensely we look, the more we
see. There has to be a meaningful connection with our essential nature,
somehow, or the whole search is pointless. We may throw up our hands in
frustration occasionally, wondering why we should bother, but then the mystery
inexorably draws us back in.
Absolute is often described as infinite, which is another mysterious concept
that is impossible to grasp. As any mathematician will tell you, infinity
cannot be arrived at through counting. No matter how large the numbers become,
there are still far more available than have already been counted. In a sense,
then, counting keeps you close to the beginning, the ordinary, the tried and
true, forever. An alternative method for ascertaining infinity is required,
some type of intuitive leap.
infinity can be indicated (named), but it remains inexplicable nonetheless.
Even calculus only employs an approximation of infinity, though one that
suffices in practical matters. A working definition of infinity is a fine and
useful thing. Like the Absolute, infinity is of a different order than the
numbers it bears a mysterious relationship to. Bigger and bigger amounts give
one kind of sense about its nature, but can never equal it. They are “in it”
but not “of it” and cannot affect it. All the numbers in the world cannot have
the slightest impact on the absolute condition of infinity.
number is perfectly unique, and yet it does not exist in isolation. All are
connected and gathered together in systems within systems, tied to each other
in more ways than the fertile mind can imagine. As an example, the number 20 is
meaningless if it does not imply a connection with all the numbers preceding
and following it. It is larger than 19 and smaller than 21, for instance. The
relation to one is even more central: 20’s stature is defined as an
agglomeration of 20 ones, and lacking that scale might be any value at all.
Since mathematicians pay close attention to the context in which they are
computing, they are among our modern day wizards, absentmindedly sifting
through subtle truths in the sandbox of the Science of the Absolute.
and zero are the two truly unique numbers, which underlie the whole
superstructure of the numerical world. Infinity more closely resembles zero
than any other number, and the unity of one is the building block for all the
rest. All this tells us that we should look for the Absolute close to home and
not necessarily in the remote abstractions which our minds are capable of
some respects infinity is identical with the Absolute, and each individual
being is like a number. Without an infinite sea of potentials upon which to
float, the domain of numbers would be arbitrarily and fatally truncated. Like
the ocean with its surface waves, the Infinite supports the existence of
numbers, even as the numbers in any combination do not reveal the full depth of what
it is. Just so is our relation to God or the Absolute: we are embraced by it
and are an integral part of it, but it remains a mysterious abstraction not
revealed by the superficial contemplation of the numbers or individuals
themselves. A higher order of contemplative reasoning is required to reveal the
further, beings do not exist in Me; behold My status as a divine mystery;
further, Myself remaining that urge behind beings, I bear them but do not exist
in them either.
implied in the preceding comments, any fixed definition or description of
infinity immediately becomes limited and therefore less than infinite. The
absolute factor of infinity informs all systems, mathematical or otherwise, but
remains unattainable by any method. If it is left out of the picture because of
this indefinability, we have to make do with random, disconnected heaps of
numbers. Therefore, infinity is simultaneously necessary and distinct from all
of its domains.
infinity “the domain of all numbers,” which is not different from “the sum
total of all particles in the universe,” is a vague definition at best, and
makes it seem vastly large. Plus, it leaves out everything that isn’t a number.
If instead it is thought of as a principle, it at least loses its temporal and
spatial dimensions. Personifying mathematical infinity would be trite and
puerile, as in Infinite Bob, the Number God. It is not only perfectly
acceptable to leave the Absolute as an undefined, transcendent factor, it is
essential to its integrity.
developments in quantum physics are highly intriguing as a more advanced
analogy for the Absolute. The quantum vacuum or zero point field (ZPF) is
beginning to sound very much like the ancient notion of the Absolute. It’s
all-pervading and virtually infinite in power (that is, omnipresent and
omnipotent); within everything but not connected directly to anything. Being
imperceptible, it has been discounted until mathematical calculations have
forced its acceptance, and even then many remain dubious: like the Absolute, if
you can’t see it, it must not exist. In fact, all the descriptions of the
Absolute in the Gita relate to the ZPF perfectly. It looks possible that the
ancient rishis experienced it directly via contemplation rather than through
mathematical computations, but as Krishna admits, whatever works is just fine
with him. The key is attaining experiential verity, as opposed to being content
Absolute, being a totality, must remain in balance at all times. Quantum math
heads have calculated that the ZPF packs energy 110 orders of magnitude greater
than the energy at the center of the sun. How do you square the energy at the
center of the sun, to say nothing of continuing to square it 110 times over? If
you can imagine this you can readily believe that the slightest imbalance in
such a titanic force field would cause the universe to instantly explode or
otherwise disintegrate. Hence the Gita is VERY CAREFUL to keep its verses
harmoniously paired, to maintain the balance.
no matter how out of balance we humans get, it has absolutely no effect on the underlying
ground. There is a pervasive balance that is not affected in the slightest by
all our caterwauling, and this is extremely fortunate. One of the greatest
miracles of a universe filled with miracles from end to end is that we can
somehow become separate from it all, which enables all sorts of seemingly isolated
behavior. Isn’t it curious that after achieving such a stupendous and
impossible feat, so many seekers want to remerge immediately, to subtract
themselves from it? At the end of the Absolute’s greatest and most paradoxical
achievement, separation, creating the impossible ability to hug and kiss and
talk with an other, with many others, everybody wants to hurry back into
nothingness, to stamp out their separateness. Actually, only a very tiny dab of
the nearly infinite energy of the Absolute should be sufficient to make life
hum with bliss. So tune in enough to remember your indivisible connectedness,
but please don’t run away from life. How could the Absolute ever substitute for
you? It can’t be done, even by an omnipotent (non)Being. After all, if you are
merely the shape the Absolute is in at the time and place where you exist, you
are absolutely essential to its expression.
the great (expanse of) air filling all space has its basis in pure extension,
thus you should understand all existences as having their basis in Me.
the belief that ancient yogis were able to mentally travel to the moon, it made
sense to grounded thinkers in the Gita’s time that air went on forever, filling
the universe. Although there has been lots of speculation since ancient times
about what “out there” is made of, virtually all of it theological, nothing was
actually known about outer space until relatively recently. And let’s face it,
our knowledge is still quite rudimentary. Current models of the nature of the
universe are changing almost daily. They will probably always be works in
progress. But for now we do know that air only goes a very short distance into
space, and space is quite a bit bigger than we used to picture it.
of the most curious claims found in many religions is that by knowing God you
automatically know everything there is to know about the world. For instance,
Radhakrishnan states it baldly in his fanciful title for the tenth chapter: God is the
Source of all: to know Him is to
know all. Since sooner or later all the scientific statements that occur in
scripture (or anywhere else for that matter) are found to be outmoded, this is
taken by some as proof that God does not exist. Both polarities are equally
absurd. It should only be understood that people’s claims are often exaggerated,
and all our cherished thoughts may soon be obsolete. Merging with the Absolute
may free you to begin to learn with an open mind, and heighten your interest in
aspects of creation, but it does not confer encyclopedic knowledge. It opens
the heart to wisdom. Wisdom and knowledge are not the same: the former deals
with how to live well in any situation—essentially a vertical focus—and the
latter is awareness regarding the horizontal components that make up the world
in which the living takes place. If religious people would stop pretending to
insider knowledge of material processes, scientists could stop ridiculing them
and drop the unwarranted assumption that the wisdom aspect of religion is
automatically invalidated by its votaries’ questionable knowledge of facts.
a question of keeping the structural framework straight. Since in the final
analysis there can be only one truth, there should never be conflict between
those who emphasize different aspects of it, if they truly know what they are
all-knowing would actually be a tragic state, since there would be nothing left
to learn, no surprises or intrigue. Plus, the temptation to put on airs (or
errs) would be hard to resist. It’s a mark of ego that people feel like they
have to pretend to perfect knowledge. We all know a very little, and have so
much yet to learn. If we could accept that about ourselves, we would be more
tolerant and less irascible, and all the outlandish mental gymnastics performed
in defense of scriptural claims could be put to rest. God would have to be
really, really small to be fully comprehended by any human being.
said that, the model offered by Krishna to describe if not explain the mystery
of the Absolute is not far from those of modern physics. Space or pure
extension does “fill” the universe, though what we usually call air clings
mainly to the surface of planets and gets mighty thin out there in deep space.
Space and air are not the same. Outer space contains extremely rarified air,
mostly in the form of hydrogen, thinned to the current estimates of about one
atom per between a cubic centimeter and a cubic meter, on average.
“pure extension” of space appears to be expanding. As Timothy Ferris writes in
his fascinating history of physics titled The
Whole Shebang, (Simon and Schuster, 1997), what’s going on is “an expansion
of intergalactic space itself. By keeping this in mind we can avoid lapsing
into the parochial notion that galaxies are flying through static space, like
shards of a bomb. The universe should not be thought of as expanding ‘into’
preexisting space. All the space the universe has ever had has been in the
universe from the beginning, and the space is stretching.” (44)
Krishna’s metaphor is a close analogy to the ocean of hypothetical subatomic
particles which fill the pure extension of the universe. Ferris reminds us that
“matter is frozen energy.” (p. 102). As we have noted, the original energy
contained in the quantum vacuum of space is virtually infinite: omnipotent,
omnipresent, and quite possibly omniscient in a trans-human sense. It coalesces
or freezes into various bits of matter for a short while and then thaws back
into energy again. We are all currently enjoying an interlude between periods
of existing as pure energy.
beings pass into My nature at the end of a unit of cosmic duration, and at the
beginning of the same unit I emanate them.
Big Bang theory, if modified to be repetitive via a Big Crunch, is accurately
prefigured by the cosmology of the Upanishadic rishis. They held that the
universe pulses on and off in vast cycles of manifestation and unmanifestation.
The Absolute “breathes out” and beings come in existence, and then it “breathes
in” and they return to a primal, nondifferentiated state. Over and over and
verse is ostensibly about the great cosmic cycles of time, but from our
psychological perspective one lifetime is a unit of cosmic duration. What is
true on a grand scale is also true in the microcosm. At the end of their
individual cycle (death), beings remerge into the unmanifested nature of the
Absolute, and at birth they emanate from it. Chapter IX rises to proffer the
essence of the Gita’s teaching, and the present perspective parallels its
finalized doctrine on reincarnation, where it is an aspect of the Absolute, not
distinct individual beings, that incarnates again and again.
can note in passing that verses 7 and 8 here present a much broader image of
emergence and remergence compared to Chapter VIII, verses 16-19, where the
cycles are much tighter. Here we have kalpas,
full cycles, and there, yugas, four
subdivisions of each cycle. The difference parallels the subtle distinction
that will be made in Chapter XV, where there is a manifested and an unmanifested
Absolute, but beyond them both is the supreme transcendental Absolute. Krishna
continues to stretch our imagination to the furthest boundary and beyond with
these descriptions, not unlike the outrageously ungraspable analogies of modern
virtue of My nature, I emanate again and again the whole aggregate of beings,
subject as they are to the necessary compulsion of nature.
previous verse is generalized outward to include the whole panoply of existence
within the ambit of the Absolute. Our perspective has now become vastly
expanded, as if Krishna and Arjuna are stepping back to view the universe from
a far post in deep space.
“necessary compulsion of nature” makes reference to the gunas, the modalities
that are the compelling force of necessity in nature. In keeping with modern
science, all beings spring from “nothingness” or a purely potential state, and
are immediately subject to a plethora of natural laws that shape and direct
Guru has this to say about that: “Life starts by our being naturally compelled
to take for granted by sheer necessity the pluralistic, practical and therefore
relativistic world where we have to make the best of our lives…. Here begins
the possibilities of calculations and logical construction by which, through a
series of possibilities less real and still full of possible error, we can
attempt to reach the ultimate reality beyond the zone.” (Vol. I, p. 342, Integrated
Science of the Absolute). He
goes on to describe the zone as having a reflected status in the mind.
to our physics perspective, it would be a chaotic universe indeed if natural
laws didn’t guide the expression of the manifested bits. Every particle would
be disconnected from every other that followed a different set of laws. But
that is by no means the case. Because it springs from consciousness and not any
aggregation of matter, the observable universe displays an unbelievable
coherence and perfect balance. Although their conclusions are not so bold,
Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee detail a large number of incredible
coincidences that seem to be essential to the evolution of sentient beings in
their book Rare Earth. In Science and the
Akashic Field, Ervin
Laszlo touches on a couple of these factors:
basic parameters of the
universe have precisely the value that allows complex structures to arise…. The
fine-tuning in question involves upward of thirty factors and considerable
accuracy. For example, if the expansion rate of the early universe had been
one-billionth less than it was, the universe would have re-collapsed almost
immediately; and if it had been one-billionth more, it would have flown apart
so fast that it could produce only dilute, cold gases. A similarly small
difference in the strength of the electromagnetic field relative to the
gravitational field would have prevented the existence of hot and stable stars
like the Sun, and hence the evolution of life on planets associated with these
stars. (p. 64-65)
more we learn about the brain, the more we find that it too follows a sort of
“necessary compulsion” in its seemingly unpredictable activities. There is much
less serendipity than meets the eye, because we don’t see what’s really going
on in most cases—the underlying compulsions of memories and chemical
imbalances—but have to rely on appearances, which are extremely deceptive.
Almost exclusively, thoughts and actions are replays of learned inputs in
various permutations, and because of this most translations of this verse emphasize
the inherent helplessness of beings in the face of natural compulsions. The
problem that spiritual seekers are confronted with, then, amounts to “How do we
perform an act that is not predetermined by natural constraints?” Linking up
with the Absolute is a metaphor for learning how to act independently, with
perfectly free will. The Gita, as it turns out, is in large measure a textbook
for how to achieve free will, or at least freer will.
these works do not bind Me, Arjuna, for I am seated, seemingly indifferent,
unattached to those actions.
brims with innate delight, but if the Absolute is truly absolute it must be
beyond all change and relativity, and therefore it must seem to be indifferent
to the manifested world of change and becoming. If the Absolute reacted in any
way to the petty behaviors of mere humans, it would mean humans were in fact in
command, superior in a way. For those accustomed to childish images of an
indulgent God, indifference is unnerving, but on careful examination the desire
for attention from a God is revealed to be nothing more than selfish
is no trivial matter. The human race is forever rocked with vicious and
baseless opinions leading to all sorts of conflicts, backed by supposed divine
sanction. Unfortunately, most scriptures, being eager to recruit converts, do
not advertise the truth that Krishna here unequivocally proclaims: that the
Absolute is—and must be—thoroughly neutral. No god cheers the destruction or
humiliation of your enemies, and none defends your point of view in some
mythical court. All the interactions of life reverberate in their own sphere.
Yes, the harmony that maintains the balance through thick and thin seems like a
superior force, but it’s nothing more than the inescapable balance built into
the structure of the cosmos.
is preparing us for a mature relationship with the ineffable, and like a true
guru is blasting away the vestiges of unhealthy and false notions. This will
serve us in good stead after our initial discomfiture. Living as though a
judgmental god were looking over our shoulders at all times knocks us out of
any hope of unitive action, into permanent duplicity. We cannot then help but
judge ourselves from an imaginary, externalized posture. So instead of living
in freedom, we have to parse every move, and act based on our most paranoid
fears lest we fail to live up to the lowest common denominator.
an example, in my work as a professional firefighter, this paranoia was
institutionalized as a hypothetical Grandmother Who Noticed Everything That Was
Out of Place. A loose thread on your uniform or a missing button or unshined
boots would, in the managerial imagination, send her right to the Chief to
complain that her tax dollars were being misspent. And of course she would vote
down our next budget and we’d all be out of a job, begging on the streets, all
because of those scuffed boots. Based on all my encounters with real people, who
had more important issues to deal with, there was no such yenta to be found
anywhere. She only existed as a delusion in the minds of fearful and miserable
adult children. Imaginary or not, her shadow is the most powerful force on
Earth, virtually a god.
fear of being harshly judged by an invisible being is an unconscious echo of
the aversion to punishment we developed in childhood. Coming out from under its
spell is one of the most crucial of all spiritual developments, lodged as it is
deep in the psyche. This is a royal secret, if ever there was one, boldly
proclaimed by Krishna here.
Gita assures us we have nothing to fear, at least from the divine side of life.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all the cold, judgmental products of unhappy
religion could get this message and lighten up! It is not any God we have to
fear, it is an angry mob of true believers acting out of ignorance that puts us
9 not only annihilates religious partisanship, it adumbrates the shocking
assertion just ahead, in verses 30 and 31, that even the most evil actions do
not bar the doors of union with reality. It will be discussed in more detail
Me presiding, nature gives birth to both the movable and the unmovable
entities; because of this the world revolves.
we encounter a nice geometric image. If you have things that move and other
things that are fixed, those in motion naturally begin to rotate around those
that don’t, like a herd of goats tied to a stake. It’s interesting to speculate
whether the ancient Indians knew the planet they lived on revolved, or what we
now call rotated. We can only wonder at what was meant by them when they said
things like moving and unmoving. The idea can also be taken as referring to
organic and inorganic substances, or living and nonliving entities. Do the living
revolve around the dead, or vice versa?
axis of rotation is the immovable aspect of moving—especially spinning—systems.
Stars and planets whirl virtually endlessly through the void of space. Galaxies
revolve around their center of gravity, which is thought to be a gigantic black
hole in some cases. Likewise, atoms have a relatively stationary nucleus
surrounded by electrons spinning so furiously they impart the appearance of
solidity. Despite a theory of entropy that assumes such systems must be gradually
running down, the conservation of energy within all of them is stupendous. It
is equally astonishing that none of these scientific truths are visible to the
naked eye, but somehow the rishis intuited their importance without any of our
modern observational equipment.
lives are also part of this geometric scheme. We have a stable core of self
that functions as an axis, surrounded by a swirling, whirling cloud of activity
and experience. Miraculously, no matter how madly we spin and how out of control
we feel, the core self stays centered within us. It offers shelter from the
storm whenever we are ready to come in out of the rain, though it is also good
and probably essential for us to get drenched now and again.
there is duality in this scheme: the duality of actuality. The polarity between
plurality and unity spins the dance of life, and the emergent value is Beauty
beyond compare. It is to this we should “bow our heads,” in joy and not in
fear, as artists of life and not as whipped curs. Those who turn to a wise seer
will be reminded of this, and directed to an ecstatic atonement (at-one-ment)
foolish misunderstand Me because of My adopting the human form, ignorant as
they are of My being that is beyond, as Lord of all beings.
an eternally sad but true fact known to all gurus, avatars and seers down
through the ages. They speak of the invisible ground of bliss from which
everything springs, but their followers believe they must seek it through the
guru’s teachings and personality. The seers speak of the universal happiness
within each person, but their followers sense that the bliss is emanating from
somewhere or someone outside of them. It seems that no amount of carefully
wrought instruction ever succeeds in jarring devoted followers from their
is reminiscent of the Zen story of the teacher who points to the moon while all
his disciples stare at his finger. He can shake it, wave it, pretend to throw
it, but wherever it moves the tenacious disciples keep their eyes locked on
that finger. To look elsewhere would imply a lack of faith! Even if he holds
the finger directly in front of the moon, they still won’t see what he’s
is not merely a religious problem. In a sense everything is a symbol of the
Absolute in which we mistake the form for the essence. Our senses only perceive
the outer shell of what we think we see, and not what it really is. So we are
all “fools” in this sense, and it is not just the failing of some ridiculous
others. A major part of spiritual discipline is to remember at all times that
everything encountered is the Absolute, clothed in various guises. Over and
over we forget and become thoroughly engrossed with the outer manifestation
alone. When we eventually remember, we may sink back for a time into the
realization of the essence. But soon along comes exactly the thing we secretly
want to be caught by, and away we go again. The next verse reminds us of just
where we end up when we are swept away in mistaking the form for the essence.
frustrated hope, of frustrated deeds, empty of wisdom, non-discriminating,
(they are) like malignant titans and demons, submitting themselves to a nature
of confounding values.
to say, this remains an apt description of humanity a couple of thousand years
after it was penned. Almost everyone arriving at adulthood (so called) has
learned to substitute an analogical description for direct experience, with the
result that our values are confounded. Values are critically important, since
they are how we comprehend the world around us, and when they are confounded
our actions are thrown into disarray. The outcome is vicious behavior and
internal misery, precisely what the yoga of the Gita aims to be the antidote
Krishna’s opinion, religion is the primary value system that confounds humans,
and he is trying his hardest to help Arjuna break free of the beliefs he
formerly took for granted. As he has made clear already, mystical apprehension
is the living truth we all instinctively crave, but we cling to ersatz versions
as we become habituated to what passes for “ordinary” reality, and we become
confounded as to how to regain our innate blissful state. While religion more
or less aims to restore clear-headedness, there is a tendency for humans to
latch on to its images and steer away from the core reality it intimates.
gurus have a religious following, including Krishna nowadays. Worship Krishna
and be free! Worship Christ and be free! Just about all the major religions are
focused on a great saint of the past, or else a collective saintly tribe. They demand
the same with what they call God. “Worship our image of God and be free—or
else!” Because they are busy maintaining the dead letter of a historical period
instead of living in the present, their expectations are continually dashed by
the actualities they encounter, so they must necessarily turn away from fresh
insights in order to excuse their fixation on the past. Many are hypocrites who
complacently adhere to modern values but who nonetheless tout a bygone time as
the only valid truth. It is certainly appropriate for Krishna to come down hard
on such “true believers” in an attempt to shake them from their confusion,
which often leads directly to war or interpersonal strife of the most heinous
off the dead weight of the past may be said to be the crux of the spiritual
search. Yet this is highly paradoxical, because without the words and examples
of those ancient rishis there would be no instruction in correct thinking
available to us. Some part of the past is intrinsic to any word presentation.
And we must imbibe what has gone before to save ourselves the thousands of
years of trial and error by which the human race has already learned so much. The
Gita itself is an ineffable part of this legacy. There is no point in starting
from scratch every time out. Somehow we have to simultaneously combine the
inspiration of words of wisdom with a radical openness to nonverbal
consciousness. It takes a dialectical leap of comprehension to bring them
is it that goes off the mark when we try to imagine what our favorite saint
would say, or listen to others’ interpretations of what they think they would
say? Somewhere along the line we lose contact with our own sensibility,
transfer it to the hypothetical Other. Once that happens we become even more
susceptible to outside manipulation than we ordinarily are.
a living teacher interprets the past to you from their own standpoint, does it
make it any more true than if you pore over a musty tome? Where can you turn
when you are surrounded by ignorant people with strong opinions? When your
whole life and mental framework have been shaped by such people, so proud in
their petty concerns? In the final analysis, who do you trust, and how do you
know if anything you believe in is valid? Your own ability to discriminate is
your best ally, since nothing can be nailed down as a hard and fast rule.
Everything has an upside and a downside, and a spiritual search is no
key is to bring the teachings to life in yourself. They have to go from being
abstract ideas to something more. You must dive into yourself in the same
measure that you receive input from outside. When you do that the spirit is reborn.
Anything else is mere worship, mere admiration of the external. Wishful
thinking. Go ahead and admire what you like, but until it ignites a spark
within you it is only a theory. All good scientists test theories to prove
their efficacy. They don’t take anything for granted. Such is the attitude
recommended for you royal scientists by the Gita. Replicate the theory by
making it real in your own laboratory of consciousness. Anything less is
subject to diversion into disaster.
case you are still imagining that cherishing static religious beliefs is
somehow acceptable, Krishna really lays it on here. This is very strong
language, a veritable harangue, designed to jolt idle idol worshippers out of
their smugness and conceit. We should all take it very much to heart.
Guru claims that the message here may be the Gita’s most important
contribution, and it is certainly dear to his heart, too. He writes, in part:
Modern Hinduism, especially after
the decadence of the more philosophic schools of thought, has connived at many
forms of religious practice, some of them being but puerile forms of popular
adoration, on a par perhaps with the kissing of the brass or plaster image of
Jesus in Milan and elsewhere, and violating even sanitary principles.
Some people even think that if they shed tears before a
photograph or picture it will bring them spiritual progress. No respectable
scripture however, can be quoted in support of such practices. In fact in the Bhàgavata
it is referred to as [an]
unnecessary or even deceitful display of worship.
The Gita being a yoga
sàstra (textbook on unitive understanding) dealing with the science of the
Absolute, continues the rational philosophic tradition of India without giving
room for any heterodoxy. Such being its essential nature it is but natural to
expect that it would not uphold puerile or lazy forms of worship. The strong
note here thus becomes leveled against people who would misunderstand the true
nature of the Absolute. The protest here is in the same spirit as in xviii, 22,
as when a man gives importance to a particular object as against its universal
import as a principle.
One thing however is clear, the denunciation of this type of
perversity is stated in most emphatic terms here, as we see from the term ‘fools’
and other expressions no less denunciatory by which the greater part of verse
12 is filled.
All static or fixed notions of the
Absolute should be considered out of place in the strict light of Vedanta. A
static view, even when it is glorified by myth and symbol, only becomes worse
than the commonsense reality of the Absolute considered as a good, great or
loveable man in the ordinary sense. The misunderstanding referred to here of
the Absolute covers all anthropomorphic forms and notions possible, from the
most simple to the most elaborate.
those of Great Self, affiliated to My divine nature, adore Me with mind
exclusive of all extraneous interests, having known Me as the unexpended primal
Source of all beings.
“confounding values” of the last verse incline us toward the “extraneous
interests” we are instructed to exclude here. When we cease stewing over
surface issues, we can settle into a state of discriminating awareness that is
not frustrating, not empty of wisdom, and most certainly not malignant, as the
previous verse had it. We no longer need to tout our own partial vision in
opposition to those of other people. The harmony we will achieve is extolled
specifically in the next few verses and implicitly throughout the next couple
and Arjuna are moving ever more deeply into a reciprocal bipolarity that will
perfectly facilitate the transmission of wisdom between them. Universes are
poised to open up for the well-prepared disciple. From trust there arises
adoration and love, balanced with dignity and respect so that they remain at
the most sublime levels.
again we can call on Guru Nitya for the best insights and the demystification
of the subject, from his Therapy and
Realization in the Bhagavad Gita:
understands his personality as the “I” factor in this relation [with a Guru].
From childhood the “I” factor is fed with so many images of a social being. He
thinks of himself in terms of what others think of him. Others expect him to be
good, so he makes an image of what is good. Others expect him to be smart, so
he makes an image of what being smart means. Others expect him to be brave, so
he makes an image of what being brave is. He puts together all these images and
he makes a composition out of them. “This is I,” he thinks. But that is not the
real “I.” That is the mask he is holding before him for others to see. Behind
the mask stands his consciousness, sometimes with confidence, sometimes with
indifference, sometimes with fear, sometimes with deceit. It is playing many
games. The disciple is afraid that the mask will be taken away from him by the
exactly what is happening when
a patient goes to see a psychologist. He wants the psychologist to think of him
as he wants to think of himself. When the psychologist begins putting
inconvenient questions to him, he wriggles like a worm, because there are sore
spots in the psyche. If you put the finger of truth there, he cannot stand it.
Then he brings in the defenses. These defenses are what I call opacities. When
an opacity comes in between a guru and a disciple, there can arise what we call
disadoption. There has to be a perfect adoption. The teacher should have a
feeling that “This student is one hundred percent mine.” And the student should
have a feeling that “This teacher is one hundred percent mine. And he will
never have anything against me. I can open up everything about myself to him
without reservation. I don’t have to hold anything back. I can go and tell him
the very things for which the society may crucify me. I shouldn’t be ashamed of
that; I shouldn’t be ashamed to go and tell my guru anything.” The patient also
should have the same feeling when he goes to his therapist.
This is what I mean by the coming
together of two minds, of the seer’s mind and the seeker’s mind, until all the
intervening hindrances are removed. But it won’t go all in one stretch, or in
an instant. It goes step by step. Then it happens by an act of grace. When it
happens, you know without a doubt that it happened. In all other cases it is
only a matter of your trying to please another person, or trying to show
devotion. Trying to show devotion is very different from spontaneously
experiencing devotion. When that devotion is established we may say sraddha begins.
When the sraddha begins to operate, a transformation will come. The
transformation comes as the result of an osmosis.
is trying to epitomize the entire course of therapy
in a few paragraphs. Some of these aspects will be dealt with later. The most
essential idea for now is that the disciple or patient, with the help of the
guru or therapist, has to tear off the social mask they have become accustomed
to wearing, and stand naked in honesty. Unless this happens, wisdom
transmission is denigrated to a game of thrust and parry, with only a pretence
of openness. Needless to say, it doesn’t accomplish anything worthwhile.
singing praises of Me, ever striving, firm in vows, and saluting Me devotedly,
they are ever united in worshipful attendance;
verse readily conjures up quaint imagery of pious, robed acolytes chanting as
they pace through their cathedral or temple in the high point of the day’s
activity, which could be a big turn off for a lot of seekers in the modern
context. The Gita has a much wider purview in mind, however. Anyone who is
enthusiastic about their life and works diligently on bringing their expression
of it to a level of expertise fits this description. Saluting the Absolute can
mean always keeping a pivotal principle in mind in every endeavor, and not
allowing yourself to be drawn into side channels and backwaters.
are often taken to mean fixed rules of spiritual life, such as those taken by
nuns and monks, or the brahmacharis of Indian schools. Such dedicated souls are
certainly meant to be included in this survey of sincere seekers. While most of
us are not in those types of categories, each of us undoubtedly has our own
vows of a sort. We might have vowed to try to grasp the meaning of life or find
a cure for some disease; or we vowed to not give in to peer pressure, or to
stand up for justice or struggle for world peace. Many people have taken less
honorable vows: to stay inebriated as much as possible, to avoid work, to make
someone else do their share, and so on. What you vow to accomplish will almost
certainly become a significant part of your life, so chose well.
we envision a course of action, plenty of distractions will appear to lure us
off course, so we have to exclude extraneous interests if we want to achieve
our goals. If we secretly prefer the distractions to the goal, it means we
haven’t really found our calling. It does not necessarily mean the distractions
are more worthwhile than the goal, only that we haven’t aligned ourself with our
authentic dharma yet. Once that is found, our enthusiasm will carry us along of
its own accord.
is no reason to take this rhapsodic advice to mean we should all behave as
though we were in Sunday School seven days a week. The picture is meant to be
open and ecumenical, and not to depict any slavish conformity to trite
religious notions. Nitya Chaitanya Yati reminds us, in Living the Science of Harmonious Union:
of most religions treat
their votaries as if they are immature people with animal instincts and a
discrimination that is no better than that of children. Moral norms are taught
with the help of anecdotes and parables, which forcefully describe how
wickedness is drastically punished and good is always rewarded. Believers'
minds are fed with the lures of an enchanting heaven, a place where the most
exaggerated hedonistic pleasures are lavished on those who are selected to
enter paradise. In the same manner, hell is described as a terrible place of
torture. Both the preachers and their congregations forget that when they die
their brains and sensory systems transform into dead matter and thereafter the
dead have no bodies to experience pain or pleasure. When the faithful are told
that they might go to hell and be cast in the burning flames of brimstone, the
fear of being scorched comes to them. Such outright stupidity is enshrined in
the most adorable scriptures of all religions. Most people remain ethical in
their outward life, fearing such punishments, and do good to others, coveting
an honored place in heaven. Henri Bergson, in his Two Sources of Morality and Religion, exposed the dubiousness of
static religion and closed morality. The alternatives are dynamic religion and
open morality. (pp. 73-74)
remember well a vow I made at around 6 years of age. I was appalled by the
stupid and derogatory way that adults talked down to children, and I vowed to
never forget how kids felt, and to always relate to them as human beings fully
deserving of respect. Several times I renewed the vow as I grew older. It has
held up well for over 50 years now, and I’ve had lots of fun relating to the
Little People, who are usually relieved and delighted to be treated more or
less on their own terms, which are mainly about play and playfulness. It’s sad that
the spirit of play gets so firmly buried so quickly for most people. Probably
many children take such a vow, but then they forget about it as they “mature.”
artist friend of mine made a vow as a teenager to retain her sense of wonder
for her whole life. She suspected that it would begin to slip away, and she
wanted to keep it alive as long as possible. This is a particularly excellent
vow, and has helped keep her art from growing stale.
know several people who have vowed to excel at their favorite endeavors,
whether artistic or commercial. Such a vow motivates them to continue to learn
and grow, to keep their energies flowing. They are outstanding in their chosen
fields, especially compared to those who don’t care or who are wishy-washy
about their motivation.
the striving and the vows go together. Singing praises and saluting are
particular forms they might take, familiar ways that people express their
enthusiasm. We can generalize them by thinking of them as happy responses to
visualizing the Absolute within every form. The Absolute is the very source of
joy, of our delight in being alive, which we tap into by discerning it as a
factor in whatever we are pondering at the time. To help us accomplish this,
Chapter X will present numerous instances of the absolute value within
different aspects of our world.
singing and carrying on doesn’t have to be hackneyed, either, like songs
explicitly praising a god or syrupy with sentiment. Music is an exalted form of
worship, and ever more so the less specific it is. Fabled atheist Kurt Vonnegut
used to say the only proof he needed for the existence of God was music. The
soaring emotions that accompany our favorite style of music can help us to
embrace largeness of soul. So it goes.
also, sacrificing with the wisdom sacrifice, unitively, dualistically, as also
in many ways facing universally everywhere, worshipfully attend on Me.
acknowledges here that while we sometimes attain a unified state of mind, we
also perceive and conceive dualistically, and sometimes even chaotically, or
multidimensionally. All have their value in contributing to the richness of our
wisdom sacrifice, of course, is the Gita’s highest recommendation for how to
relate to the Absolute. It means contemplating, studying, and striving to perceive
the Absolute everywhere, and is especially efficacious in small groups or in
bipolarity with a guru.
Maharaj (1275-1296), one of the very best commentators on the Gita, casts this
and the next verse in exactly the kind of way they were meant to be understood.
I’m going to facilitate his arcane language just a bit in the following quote,
revealing the symbolic meaning of the fire sacrifice:
to the characteristics of
the wisdom sacrifice. Intention forms the pillar of the sacrifice…. and the
sacrificial beast is the distinction between self and Self (Jiva and Shiva).
The senses and vital energies become the materials for the sacrifice and the
butter in this sacrifice is one’s own ignorance. Mind and consciousness (manas
and buddhi) are the two hollows in which the fire of wisdom is lighted. The
seat in this place is the equanimity of mind. The sacrificial incantation is
nothing but efficient thought, and the sacrificial implements consist of peace
of mind. The performer of the sacrifice is Jiva [individual self]. When by
means of utensils in the form of experience, incantations in the form of
discretion, and sacrificial beasts in the form of wisdom, the Jiva has
destroyed the distinction between itself and the Absolute, ignorance is
uprooted. So there is ultimately no difference between the sacrifice and the
performer of the sacrifice, and the individual (Jiva) gets an undisturbed pure
bath in the joys of unity with the Self. Then, having assumed the form of the
Absolute, he knows all this is one, and he ceases to believe in the distinction
between living beings, objects of enjoyment and the senses. (Gita Explained,
Not bad for someone who died at around the age
of 21, eh?
the ritual action, I the sacrifice, I the ancestral oblation, I the potent
medicinal herb, I the holy formula, I also the melted butter, I the fire, I the
enter a section of four verses sketching the ambit of the Absolute, an
especially honorable attempt to make the inconceivable conceivable. Such a
technique will make up the bulk of the next chapter also. We can imagine Arjuna
actually experiencing the Absolute in the midst of the actual fire sacrifice that
Krishna is evidently performing. The theoretical philosophical foundation for
this moment was laid down in IV, 24, that the Absolute is every aspect of the
sacrifice. Now we can sense that Arjuna is having a vibrant, glowing identity
with each aspect of the spiritual ceremony, bringing the theory to life in his
gist of the teaching is to lead us to wake up spiritually, and these metaphors
indicate the living essence at the core of the dead letters of unexamined
existence. We are called to turn from death to life, from sleepwalking to
alertness, from habit to spontaneity.
the aspects mentioned in this verse are parts of the typical fire ceremony of
the Gita’s day, variations of which are still performed all over the
subcontinent. Ritual action can be and often is mere rote behavior, but when
the Absolute is realized as the ritual’s driving force it is vivified to have a
profound impact on the worshipper. As static mimicry a ritual is fixed and
rigid, while as a living transmission of truth it is free to bend to the requirements
of the moment. If the form of the ritual takes precedence over its spirit, it
becomes yet another form of bondage, an empty game with imaginary benefits.
only religion falls into the trap of stasis—any system that relies on the
wisdom of its originators will stiffen up over time. Government always leaps to
mind here, being born in ideals and becoming ever more rigid and pragmatic, but
how about Western medicine as another example? In the last century or two, brilliant,
diligent scientists and lucky coincidences opened vast fields of discovery
about the how and why of health. Huge institutions rapidly grew to deliver the
benefits. But before long profits replaced prophets. Many doctors became
followers of rituals—the prescriptions spelled out in manuals and enforced by
legal constraints—instead of being healers attuned to the nuances of illness.
Nowadays a large number of doctors are little more than pill pushers with
virtually no personal interaction with their patients. As my very ordinary
doctor recently told me, “If you go by the book, you can’t go wrong.” He must
have meant it for himself, since he wasn’t addressing my needs at all. He
didn’t add, but should have, that in matters not precisely covered by the book,
you can’t go right either.
products of social constraint mechanically match symptoms with official
prescriptions, and over time their purview gets smaller and smaller. Now, for
instance, many doctors presume that a young woman’s symptoms for a broad range
of problems are merely due to depression, and treat only that aspect, which
happens to be a lucrative choice and one that tends to silence further
complaints as to whether or not a cure is actually achieved.
there are still medical mavericks, just as there are in religion and perhaps
even government, who can thoroughly examine the patient, and then tap into
their intuition and prescribe cures that are not necessarily laid out in some
medical “spell book.” They well know that medical opinion changes over time,
and refuse to be bound by the current paradigm. Informed, yes, but bound, no.
These are the kinds of spirits the Gita wants us to become.
is the reason for the existence of medicine, and for the potent medicinal herb
or drug to have effect it must be capable of working. After its “expiration
date” this value ebbs away, leaving only the body and not the spirit of the
medicine. The chemical structure may well be identical, but its healing power
is no longer present. Once that happens it is time to harvest a fresh batch.
The same is true in spiritual matters.
the Father of this world, the Mother, the Supporter, and the Grandsire, the
Holy One who is to be known, the Purifier, the syllable AUM, as also the Vedas
called Rik, Sama and Yajus.
17 through 19 offer a list of qualities that embody the highest principles of
existence. They are more or less self-evident, and in Gita commentaries almost
no one says anything about them. But they do deserve at least a passing word.
Guru Nitya sums them up by saying that they show that “every possible value in
the contemplative context is so rich with the presence of the Absolute that it
is not necessary to idealize or idolize any one of them particularly.” (Gita,
220) Since the Absolute is everywhere, it is absurd to claim it is only here
and not there. We can enjoy happiness that is ultimate right where we are.
and Father of the world, being paired, are actually quite significant,
especially since several popular religions have decided to downplay the mother
half and only worship the father. On reflection, you can’t have a father
without a mother, and vice versa. What ever could they mean by themselves? They
are a matched pair. Engendering and bringing forth are a unitive accomplishment
of bipolar parenting, in which the father aspect is an invisible point source.
Thereafter the mother is wholly responsible for the expansion of the point or
egg into the multi-dimensional world.
interpreters, including Nataraja Guru, translate dhata as Supporter; Aurobindo has it as Ordainer. Interestingly,
the word is pronounced like tada! which in English is the expression made when
some flashy artistic performance is completed, as when a magician produces a
rabbit out of a hat. The French equivalent is voila! a word that perfectly
expresses the idea here. It also makes for an amusing meditation, imagining
that every microsecond the universe is taking a bow for a spectacular
performance. Whenever something is created, it is definitely a cause for crying
Sanskrit term translated here as Grandsire (pitamahah)
was earlier translated as patriarch in I, 12. Aurobindo puts it nicely as “the
first Creator.” Nonetheless it is a mysterious epithet, perhaps indicating that
the Absolute is the Creator behind creation itself. Keeping in mind that part
of Arjuna’s original confusion was concern for the welfare of his ancestors, it
is likely that Krishna is hereby assuring him that he has nothing to worry
about on that score, since if all ancestors are the Absolute, nothing real can transpire
either for or against them. The Absolute is not dependent on rice balls for its
sustenance. If and when Arjuna thinks of his ancestors from now on, he should
know he is thinking of the Absolute, and his attitude is important to him, and
not to anyone long ago and far away.
hard to explain why Nataraja Guru adds “the Holy One” as the object of
knowledge. The gist is that Krishna as the Absolute is the object of knowledge,
what is to be known or discovered via investigation into the meaning of life.
Nataraja Guru always liked to demystify terms like ‘holy’, but he felt that
this verse was treating theological values in particular, so he added it in
here. The core idea is very cool, however. When we seek knowledge there is some
attraction that is drawing us to try to learn more. We want very much to
understand life as a whole, with nothing left out, and this is the underlying
motivation that energizes our search.
who is psychologically healthy feels a similar desire to know, but once their
search gets categorized as science, philosophy, fun-seeking, religion, or what
have you, the petty arguments break out. Hopefully none of us will be satisfied
with knowing less than the truth in its entirety, but the desire to be right is
so strong that we usually insist that our partial grasp is the whole deal. We
defend our ignorance with loud protestations coupled with scorn for other
opinions, where we would be better advised to be appreciative that others
disagree with us, because it might reveal any weaknesses in our position. It is
far healthier to conceive of the search for truth in knowledge as a holy
endeavor shared by all.
Absolute as Purifier is also an intriguing concept. There does seem to be a
principle of enlightenment, or call it training, at large in the universe. Life
naturally rounds off the sharp edges of our psyches the way a mountain stream
smoothes the rocks in its bed. We have only to participate in good faith in the
life around us to grow spiritually. Humans can be powerfully attracted to
impurities like inebriation or mind games to buffer themselves against too much
awareness as well, and the world is rife with opportunities to hide out. But we
are welcome, the minute we are ready to open ourselves up to the teeming life
around us, to emerge from our tomb-like fortresses and join in the awesomely
beautiful celebration of existence.
has been discussed at some length in VIII, 13. The three most important Vedas,
as we know, stand for religion in general. The essence of all religion is the
Absolute, variously regarded as Allah, God, Tao, Great Spirit, Buddha, and so
on, and this has also been dealt with adequately in earlier chapters.
am the Goal, the Supporter, the Lord, the Witness, the Abode, the Refuge, the
Friend, the Becoming, the Dissolution, and Ground of Being, ontological Basis,
and never-expended Seed.
list of Krishna’s qualities now includes some very personal and supportive,
even friendly, attributes. Part of the Absolute is utterly immanent. It must
touch us here and now in our actual circumstances, otherwise it recedes into a
remote and meaningless abstraction.
especially has been riven by this paradox. Where early on it stressed the
humanity of Jesus, to teach that all humans were potentially divine, over time
he was made into a non-human god. This obscured his message that the kingdom of
heaven is within, and displaced it behind some very expensive and complicated
barricades. Whatever one’s beliefs, it is crucial to know that your efforts may
bear fruit, even as you restrain yourself from imagining what those fruits
Absolute as the Goal of all endeavors is slightly different from the “what is
to be known” of the previous verse. There the Absolute is described as the
object or goal of knowledge, here more the goal of experience. In this verse
the word is gati, which is usually
thought of as ‘path’, though it has a wide range of meanings. A path should be
directed to a goal, or it isn’t really a path but an aimless course of
wandering. When we look back over our life, we can detect a coherence, a
unified unfoldment, that is nothing if not the path we have been following. It
is much more difficult to discern the way ahead, but luckily our steps seem to
be guided by a mysterious Fortune, so we seldom stray far afield so long as we
are intent on reading the signs along the way. Thinking of our path as a Way
teaches us that the Absolute is the same as the infamous Tao. Other senses of gati
include Fate, happiness, and the
course of the soul through many lives, all of which are easy to connect up with
the idea of a path and its goal.
tend to lose our way by adopting a specific set of steps to follow toward a
well-defined goal. This substitutes personal whimsy or a static program for the
inner impetus of the Absolute that we can normally detect only after the fact.
We have to resist the tremendous pressure put on us every day to define our
path in socially acceptable terms, in order to stay with our inner unfoldment.
As long as we know in our heart that the Absolute is the true goal, defining
these minor goals will not throw us off the track.
idea of the Absolute as Supporter also appears to be a repetition of the
previous verse, but the Sanskrit word is different. In Verse 17 the support is
like a ground or foundation underpinning existence, here it’s more like a
sustainer or nourisher. Somehow our basic needs—philosophically as well as
physically—are met by a generosity that is wholly out of proportion to the
efforts we make to meet those needs. Most of the work of providing us with
food, for instance, is done independently by solar energy, rain and earth
chemicals. Narayana Guru in Verse 66 of his Hundred Verses of Self-Instruction
mentions the concept, saying “food and all such always come as a matter of
course.” Because we don’t have to spend every minute meeting basic needs, we
know the truth of the Biblical saying that “man shall not live for bread
alone.” The face of the Absolute is benign. It is a helper, not a hinderer. With
the right attitude, even our hindrances are ultimately helpful, since they
force us to learn how to surmount them.
ties into the idea of Lordship. We have avoided using the loaded term Lord
throughout this commentary, because of the pernicious implication that a Lord
is boss and all creation must function as the Lord’s serfs or slaves. But it
can have a pure sense, as here. The whole universe belongs to the Absolute in
the ways that have been described earlier, including verses 4-6 of this
chapter. The Absolute is by no means a jealous god. There is no directorship,
much less a dictatorship. We are on our own, but we play on the field of the
universe, which is not of our own making. We did not invent the laws of the
universe, and we are helpless to nullify them. The generous and kindly support
of the Absolute does not come with any contract, in the way that the sun does
not require any “payback” for its beneficence. While we may be infinitely in
debt to our environment, the debt is never called due. Even our abusive
treatment of our world only carries its natural and reciprocal consequences. So
there can be a wonderful meditation on the idea of lordship as an absolute,
non-relative quality. Those carrying the burden of religious indoctrination of
an oppressive and jealous god can benefit the most from normalizing those
readers will have a tendency to think of the Witness in religious terms, where
a judgmental god looks over your shoulder and watches everything and doles out
correlative punishments. But a Vedantic witness is utterly neutral. The instant
judgment enters the picture its purity is corrupted and it becomes something
else. Judging and witnessing are miles apart. Pure witnessing is like a clear
mirror that adds nothing to what it reflects; in fact it is so clear that it
isn’t even a mirror. Its depth includes the whole universe. There is no “other”
looking on: it is we ourselves who are the primary witnesses of our own deeds
and experiences. Additionally, it is when we enter the neutrality of pure
witnessing that we begin to merge into the state of being of the Absolute. We
can cultivate this witness, but it is ever present in us without effort. All we
have to do is make room for it. In keeping with the tenor of this verse, there
is a mild positive tilt to the word translated as witness here. It implies the
certitude of seeing with our own eyes, of the irrefutability of direct
perception. No matter how much murk and confusion overlies our psyche, the
Absolute core of it remains steadfast and unobscured.
Absolute as the Abode of everything is a simple enough concept. Since it is
All, where else could anything abide? How could anything be something other
than the Absolute? Pondering this leads inevitably to the conclusion that we
are all the Absolute. The only reason we imagine we aren’t is because of our
ignorance, and once that is addressed we realize we are aspects of the Absolute
residing within our true nature as the Absolute. This is the purpose of the
quintessential Vedantic meditation on the mantra tat tvam asi, “that thou art.” By knowing the one truth that we are
the Absolute, all else becomes comprehensible.
a Refuge extends the idea of abode to something that provides shelter from the
storm. Life is chaotic, stressful and often frightening and threatening to what
we imagine our self to be, that is, the body. As we identify more and more with
our true nature in the Absolute, we can relinquish our fears and learn
confidence. As Krishna taught right at the outset, “This does not kill, is not
killed.” (II, 19). As pilgrims on a spiritual quest, we are refugees fleeing
the chaos engendered by our identification with the mortal aspect of our being,
turning to the eternal for refuge.
word for Friend here is a very positive one, and includes the idea of an ally,
along with kindness and affection. This is about as immanent as it is possible
to be. Even Nataraja Guru detects a “slight positive pressure” in the ultimate
neutrality of the Absolute, which is responsible for all the terrific things we
are inexplicably bathed in at all times. For this most neutral of all
philosophers, who masterfully exposed the bias lurking within “Neutral Monism”
and its most famous exponent, Bertrand Russell, that speaks volumes. (For more
on this, see his book Unitive Philosophy,
Part III.) Narayana Guru, in his Svanubhavagiti,
begs the Absolute imploringly for favors in a tone of close friendship. To
relate to the divine as an intimate acquaintance without falling prone to
delusory projections is an artful and salutary attitude. There is no disrespect
implied in daring to treat the ultimate mystery as our dear friend, and in fact
it arises only in those who have overcome the immense barrier of false
immediately segues from the immanent to the transcendent. Becoming, Ground of
Being, and Dissolution refer to the three phases of existence in time that
everything must go through: being created, lasting, and then going away. Hindus
symbolize these stages as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The essentially identical
Buddhist view is that the world is renewed every second, with each second
consisting of three equal parts of inception, persistence and destruction. Our
perception and concurrent awareness follow the same pattern. There is a period
we are not aware of when there is a buildup to each perception, where there is
evidence of neural activity but the object or idea has not yet broken through
into consciousness. Then we have a momentary registry of the event, with its
duration dependent on its importance to us, and finally a transition to the
next awareness where it tails off and is supplanted by the next. These cycles
are not dependent on any human agency, and so are viewed as more of the magic
of how the Absolute is expressed in creation as a general principle.
philosophically-inclined commentators use “resting place” instead of
“ontological basis.” Actually, according to MW, the sense is of a storehouse or
repository, including a treasure trove. The idea is of preserving the supremely
valuable treasures of existence. Recall from VII, 7 that all existence is
strung on the Absolute like a series of precious jewels on a necklace. The
Sanskrit nidhana is almost certainly
the source of the Latin word for nest, nidus;
nido in Spanish. The Absolute as a snug nest to incubate ontological eggs
connects seamlessly with the final quality of the verse, the imperishable Seed.
Verse 17 opened with the Father and Mother principles, and Verse 18 closes with
their operational reflection, as eggs in nests. Conceiving and nurturing of
independent aspects of existence have got to be the most essential of all
absolute qualities; without them we would not be here to wonder about them.
is a good time to take a moment to reflect on the transcendental genius that
wove all these profound elements together so delicately that almost no one even
notices them. They have made a successful journey through time to when we are
finally taking a moment to welcome them into our own hearts. It’s a tremendous
accomplishment. Much more sipping of the amrita,
the nectar of immortality, lies ahead.
radiate heat and I rain, I withhold and I send forth, I am immortality and
death, as also being and nonbeing, Arjuna.
Gita’s broad picture of the Absolute finishes up with four dialectically paired
dichotomies that cover the full range of creation. They are based on a
structural image of a cross, shaped like the Cartesian coordinates and well
known to Gurukula students, as Nataraja Guru elucidated it extensively. The
first pair is fully actual, the second virtual or conceptual. These represent
the horizontal positive and negative poles, respectively. The third pair spans
the vertical parameter, with death as the negative pole and immortality as the
positive. Being and non-being suggest the symbolic image as a whole: the entire
structure in contradistinction to no structure at all.
heated by the broiling sun and cooled by the rain are countervailing polarities
of the actual world everyone has experienced. They are specific examples of the
holding and sending forth—attraction and repulsion—mentioned as conceptual
versions of such typical tangible realities. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in the Bible
waxes poetic in making the same point as the Gita’s bare-bones schematic
wording, and no one has ever said it better. Note the dialectical pairing used
in it, as well:
To every thing
there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time
die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time
laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to
a time of war, and a time of peace.
Immortality and mortality
are likewise a matched pair. All
these progressively subtle factors, the wakeful, dream, deep sleep and
transcendental, are worthy of contemplation in depth.
and non-being, sat and asat, comprise
the most central of all
principles, the on-off, binary code at the heart of the mega-computer of the
Guru says of the grading of verses 13-19: “This series enumerates all possible
contemplative values, ending with that neutral Absolute which is both existing
and non-existing (sat and asat). Not only
is the Absolute free
from all taint of action, but the status of the worshipper and the worshipped
here becomes equal, as verse 29 puts it.” (p. 38) Ramanuja posits sat as the
present (or the now) and asat as the past and future.
demonstrates the weakness of the typical commentary with his size-up of this sublime
verse: “The main idea is that the Supreme Lord grants our prayers in whatever
form we worship Him.” (246) Give me a break!
of the three Vedas, soma drinkers, purified from sin, worshiping by sacrifices,
pray of Me the way to heaven; they, attaining the holy world of Indra, enjoy
divine feasts in heaven.
20-23 closely parallel VII, 20-23, and the ideas epitomized in them comprise
the beginning of Chapter XII, which covers the first stage of reintegration of
the psyche after Arjuna’s transformative vision of the true nature of the
Absolute in Chapter XI.
surprisingly, this verse and the next are in the exalted meter. Although
Krishna is indicating the limitations of worship, specifically through
religious study combined with psychedelic soma
rituals, the meter implies that despite their limitations there is a lot of
beauty and value in such practices. Certainly they are much more superficially
attractive and easier of attainment than detached contemplation of the
Absolute, leading as it does to “lonely final happiness” (XIV, 27).
West came to Indian wisdom mostly unintentionally, as the accidental outcome of
the search for pleasure and escape from the soul-killing conventions of
materialist society offered by psychedelic medicines. What a surprise to
discover a heavenly universe immediately below the surface of ordinary
“reality”! LSD was an instant ticket to the world beyond, and many travelers
quickly realized that the new paradigm was the very one which was referenced by
seers throughout history, and Indian rishis in particular. Within transactional
parameters religious psychedelic trips are as high as it gets, no pun intended.
Hence the exalted meter.
known associations between psychedelics and religion and especially
spirituality are far from casual, despite a frustrating paucity of scientific
data due to political repression. Just search the internet for LSD and God
together, and you can read thousands of fascinating tales, many remarkably
cogent. Leading researcher Stanislav Grof, who personally guided at least 5,000
legal trips in Czechoslovakia and the US in the pre-prohibition era, summed up
one of the most common experiences as awareness of “Divinity everywhere, but no
God anywhere.” The feeling is that everything is made of “God,” and that God is
not something apart from life. A predominant percentage of those trippers felt
their life had changed in strongly positive ways.
the mythological frame of reference, Stephen T. Naylor writes:
As a drink, Soma is the ambrosia of
the gods. It was due to this influence that they could rise above all obstacles
to achieve their goals. Indra was a great drinker of the substance; before his
confrontation with Vritra, he drank rivers of it to gain the strength needed to
overcome the fearsome dragon. Agni also consumed it in large amounts. Soma was
what gave the Vedic gods their immortality. It was also a drink for mortals, a
golden-hued nectar which was derived from the Soma plant, which may be a
species known as ephedra vulgaris to botanists. This drink brought
hallucinations and ecstasy to those who consumed it. It helped warriors to
overcome their fears in battle, and it helped poets to become inspired to
create. Soma was a bridge between the mortal world and that of the gods. This
drink is the same as Haoma in Persian mythology.
Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online.
[Accessed November 20,
one can be sure exactly what constituted soma in the Gita’s time, but it was
probably some kind of mushroom brew. Such natural psychedelics, which make up a
tiny fraction of the illegal drug market at present, can have a very purifying
effect on the psyche. They heighten the perception of the absurdity of widely
held but false values and ideas, and are marvelous aids to concentering
consciousness, as they temporarily sweep away learned habits of thought. It’s
the impurities that are usually added to or substituted for the real medicine
that cause the havoc that makes the headlines. That, and the fact that at the
end of a trip the user is in a highly suggestible state, open to weird
directives from within and without. It is easy to become fixated on random
words overheard, or to be swayed by the convictions of others, even if they are
seriously off base. When psychedelic drugs are used casually they can have lots
of negative effects stemming from the cultural milieu in which they are taken.
On the other hand, the ancient practices stressing sincere dedication and
purity in soma use, including experienced guides and peaceful natural
environments, are well suited to producing an enlightening event, with astoundingly
positive repercussions. The optimized use of soma will be covered in detail in
Chapter XI, where Arjuna undertakes his own trip, which in the Gita’s time was
the normal climax of the preliminary stage of discipleship.
ancient times, Vedic wisdom was the domain of soma drinkers. The Sama Veda
(could it be a corruption of Soma Veda?) collects the references from the other
Vedas regarding soma. It is unabashed in praising the drug as a way to heaven
and manly strength.
is important to note in this verse that the Vedic seekers are praying for “the
way to heaven,” not the way to wisdom. Heaven means personalized pleasure,
which is a limited goal and therefore temporary. Even excellent aims have their
limitations, to the extent they retain personal or specific desires. Because of
this, the practice falls short of the ideal and the seeker returns, as
indicated in the next verse. Yet even Arjuna, with his excellent preparedness
and rejection of religious beliefs, will return, painstakingly learning to
incorporate the lessons imparted by soma into his everyday life in the Gita’s
final seven chapters. The parmeters of our understanding are what make us who
we are, after all.
people might think of the “divine feasts” of this verse as actual banquets
filled with food and drink, but the idea is that when we are filled with
excitement and enthusiasm, our being is performing at its peak. Life itself is
the banquet. Soma offers feasts for the mind and all its senses. What is often
forgotten is that what gives us delight springs from within. It is not supplied
by any outside agency: our feasts are all projected. Soma should teach us to
seek for the source of joy within ourselves, and not be seduced by the infinite
variety of outward appearances that are projected from our psyches. Then
everything we encounter will be a delicious dish.
having enjoyed that expansive heaven-world, their merit exhausted, reenter the
world of mortality, thus conforming to the righteous notions implied in the
three Vedas: desiring desirable objects they obtain values which come and go.
religions imagine an implicit contract with God: you do good, meaning what
you’re supposed to do, and you will be rewarded with heaven or eternal life or
whatever. This means that when you make efforts to do good you are actually
doing it for selfish reasons, and so it isn’t quite so good after all. Its
purity is compromised, because you aren’t aiming so much at benefiting the
entire context as you are yourself. Any implicit contract vitiates the bliss of
doing good simply as a natural consequence of comprehending the whole setup.
might conceive of an absolutist attitude as a rocket aimed directly upward, and
all relative attitudes as rockets slightly deflected by their horizontal
conceptualizations and contractual bargains, arching instead through various
“gravity’s rainbows,” but all returning to earth sooner or later depending on
the percentage of the vertical component. Only a purely vertical or unbiased
trajectory can overcome gravity completely and escape into outer space, given
meaning “body” or “flesh” of the gods, is generally conceded to refer to a
decoction of magic mushrooms or some other psychedelic liquor. Drug users and
the religious minded are here put on a par, both of them seeking more or less
earthly pleasures, abstractly conceived as “heaven.” Any time an outside agent
is used to “boost” the psychic astronaut into space, gravity will bring them
down again. Yet there is no denying the experience has significant value. The
heavenly perspective can shake a person out of the rut of social conformity and
mental stagnation. But these techniques should be seen as an early stage of a
complete journey rather than the end of the line. It is far too easy to be
trapped by ecstasy into becoming enamored of illusions, and getting stuck on
that one step. Every step becomes a snare if it is not used as a launching platform
for the next leap.
go ahead, take your trips. Be reminded of your divine nature. Learn the rich
lessons of religion or psychedelic drugs. But then throw away the mirror and
allow your nature to grow in as much freedom as you can give it. Going up and
coming down gets old before long. You don’t need a boost to be yourself.
religion is the opiate of the people, the Gita’s philosophy is the psychedelic
of the people. The former dulls the pain of life, allowing people to tolerate
conditions of misery, while the latter wakes people up to life and calls them
to break free of their chains.
those persons who, meditating on Me to the exclusion of all else, worship Me,
ever established unitively, I bring that solace of the unitive way of Yoga.
“all else” that really needs to be excluded from our meditation is the
cluttered junk of religious beliefs, all the rules and regulations designed for
social control that seem to get mixed up with the spiritual essence within the
scriptures. Every half-baked pundit in history wants to weigh in on how life
should be lived, and put the imprimatur of God on their feeble attempts. Many
such scribblings find their way into print, and are even piggybacked into
scriptures. When all that garbage, concealing perhaps a few tarnished pearls of
wisdom, gets set down in print, it really makes quite a pile! Or an albatross,
more likely. It is definitely the stuff to argue about endlessly. The idea of God
is basically a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, but the commandments attributed
to it are subject to endless heated debate.
great tragedy of all that well-meaning but dim-witted claptrap is that humanity
is held fast in various straitjackets of belief even as change is of the utmost
urgency. One of the clearest examples is the ancient directive to be fruitful
and multiply. Back when the world was large and humanity small, this was a
tactic of religious warfare: you spread your religion by out-reproducing your
enemies. Consequently, in the 1960s, when the devastating impact of
overpopulation began to be seen as a pressing issue, all efforts to implement
sensible programs were hampered or nullified by powerful religious
organizations citing the word of God. No one was listening to the modern day
pleas and cries of the living God in the vanishing wilderness, because they had
God’s supposed words in books to make them deaf. Even today, some fifty years
of accelerating environmental devastation later, with the situation many times
more dire, humanity’s clinging to past liberties stifles our ability to
implement critical decisions.
the individual level, many sincere seekers adhere to complex programs of
behavior that they believe will lead them to the Absolute, Nirvana, God, or
whatever. The Gita is hereby denying them all. We should stop dreaming that we
have to follow some rules to get anywhere, and meditate on the Absolute face to
face, as it were. Direct, unmediated contact with the Absolute, which is our
own nature and so always available, is what brings the solace of the unitive
way. For those who are brave enough to shrug off triviality, the Absolute is
waiting for them with open arms, beckoning to the ultimate form of solace:
word translated as solace, kshema,
does not imply the compensatory factor the English word often does, as if it
was a consolation for pain or suffering. Such a skewed idea has resulted in
much intentional suffering by seekers who imagine inflicting pain on themselves
brings them closer to God. True self-realization produces well-being
independent of causation. Its solace has nothing whatsoever to do with need. MW
defines kshema as, among other
things, “rest, ease, security, peace, tranquility, weal, happiness.” Further,
here it is yogakshema, the happiness
or solace resulting from unitive understanding, that is in question. This is to
clearly distinguish the Gita’s final teaching from the previous two verses,
where heavenly-oriented values were shown to produce a temporary solace at
who has come this far in appreciating the Gita’s magnificent instruction must
be prepared for the shedding of all impediments, advocated by Krishna here at
the peak of the rhapsody. Tawdry, circumscribed aspirations should no longer
hold any appeal. We are aiming to kiss the sky, soaring as high as we possibly can,
those who, devoted to other gods, worship them with faith, they in fact worship
Myself, though not conforming to orthodox rules.
a verse that should be tucked into every scripture across the globe! It is one
hundred percent inclusive and tolerant. Whatever you may choose to call the
Absolute, the Source of all creation, is irrelevant. Just as there are
different words for man and dog and tree in every language, there are different
words for God. Accompanying the different words are different degrees of
sophistication and comprehension. This is only natural, and not anything to get
upset about. We should be delighted to discover that we all love and honor the
same principle, and bite our tongues if the way it is expressed happens to be a
little odd to our taste. That there are different strokes for different folks
is a good thing, a wonderful thing. The universe is designed to express
variety, which is, after all, the spice of life.
rules” refers back to the staid prescriptions of the Vedas, which stand for
orthodoxy in any religion. Not conforming to them is something the Gita
advocates and encourages. Change within manifestation is a healthy thing. The
idea is that different people do things differently, and that’s okay.
does not intend this verse to mean that someone who is worshipping Allah is
really worshipping Krishna without realizing it. Both are equally arbitrary
tags for the Untaggable. We name the Absolute because of our human mania for
conceptualization and communication, but it is not at all amenable to being
expressed in concepts or words. Concepts change over time; the Absolute does
not. Words are finite; the Absolute is not. That’s the reason so many religions
forbid uttering the name of God. To name is to limit. But people do it anyway.
The bottom line is that everyone has a partial comprehension of totality,
exactly commensurate with their capacity to embrace it. Some of us are trying
to expand our capacity, and some of us are trying hard to nail down a fixed
definition and make it stand still. Instead of fighting about it, we should
listen to everyone we can, and graft the good parts on to our own limited
viewpoint. It’s really juvenile to highlight the stupidities of people and then
make fun of them. Without a doubt you look as stupid to them as they look to
you. If they want to learn from you they’ll ask; otherwise, please keep your
opinions to yourself. And most definitely,
don't kill them for it!
am indeed the Enjoyer, as also the Lord of all sacrifices; but they fall indeed
who do not understand Me according to first principles.
has accorded every person the highest respect in being true to their own
understanding, but now he adds an important caveat. First principles are those
grounded in direct experience, while secondhand interpretations comprise the
vast bulk of our thoughts and beliefs. Mistaking secondhand ideas for direct
experience is the perennial failing of humans the world over. A true yogi is
therefore never satisfied with anything less than total immersion, always
striving for a global perspective that is fully attuned to reality.
Absolute is perfect and beyond all conceptualization. It is an insoluble
mystery. Even the broadest of concepts are necessarily limited, and the
Absolute must be unlimited, by definition. Therefore all concepts can only
approximate truth. The disagreement between different belief systems is solely
due to faulty conceptualization, to mistaking the limited for the unlimited. All
of us “fall from grace” when we substitute a graven image for reality,
replacing substance with the idea of substance.
only does this lead to conflict with our surroundings, it is the very basis of our
own self-doubt. Something in us longs for living truth and intuitively
recognizes the inability of conceived imagery to deliver it, and so we feel
dubious, uncertain, even as we try to pretend we aren’t. Usually our doubt is deflected
outward because it is much easier to dissect the shortcomings in someone else’s
beliefs, but the impetus springs from our unacknowledged doubts about our own
position. Those kinds of doubts are unhealthy, particularly when ignored, separating
us as they do from our inner harmony with the Absolute.
is built into the scientific method, as of course it should be. Horizontal
knowledge and even much spiritual learning evolves in part by discarding
outmoded beliefs. Doubt helps us to keep an open mind in the early going. But
to upgrade our apprehension of the Inconceivable we have to use a different
method, something like the yoga taught in the Gita. Logical techniques can take
us to the brink, but now we must penetrate beyond their reach. That is why at
the very beginning of this central chapter Krishna praised Arjuna specifically
for no longer mistrusting him, and now, having settled his doubts, he is
preparing him to have the ultimate experience of direct contact with the
of the Absolute in his poem i thank You
God for most this amazing, E. E. Cummings asks rhetorically “How could the
no of all nothing—human merely being—doubt unimaginable You?” He means we
cannot legitimately doubt what we cannot imagine, and we are too limited to
imagine the Totality. If we turn this around and say it positively, it avers
that the unimaginable is undoubtable. The Real is unimaginable; therefore we
can only imagine the unreal. It is fair to doubt the unreal, but we should not
doubt the Real. Doubt requires concepts limited enough to attack from another
limited position, and perfection does not fit the bill. Doubting perfection merely
rebounds against the doubter.
we can transcend our doubts and limitations to apprehend reality, we can say
with Cummings, “i who have died am alive again today.” The spirit of this wonderful
poem accords beautifully with the songful message of the Bhagavad Gita.
we consider the world and everyone in it to be real, we respect it.
Unfortunately we usually don’t pay attention to the reality of what we
encounter. Instead, we imagine a limited mental substitute, and then are
willing and able doubt it. In fact, what we imagine is precisely what we intend
to doubt. We do it on purpose, to downgrade the other and upgrade ourselves by
implication. The doubts reside in us, and not in the subject. This can only
have a corrosive effect on ourselves and everything we come in contact with.
And we become even more separated from truth as we grow smug about our conceits
with the disease known as hubris.
syndrome implicitly referred to by Krishna here is known in modern times as
building a straw man. Instead of confronting the real issues, we build a false
substitute with obvious flaws that are easy to knock down. In effect we make
flimsy straw images out of those we disagree with, and then set them on fire
with our scathing opinions. We don’t dare ask what the other person truly
believes, lest we are forced to modify our stance when we discover they have
some measure of truth in their position. To win we imagine we have to be in
sole possession of truth. Needless to say, winning an argument to get your way
and arriving at truth are not even close to the same thing. If we listened
instead of making accusations we might be greatly benefited by the value of
other people’s ideas. But building straw men is an exceedingly common
enterprise, because we usually aren’t mature enough to be as tolerant as the
Wikipedia online encyclopedia lists five versions of the straw man. These are
good to keep in mind, no matter whether we are unintentionally foisting them on
someone else or someone else is doing the same to us. According to the entry,
1. Present a misrepresentation
the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual
position has been refuted.
2. Quote an opponent's words out of
context –- i.e., choose quotations that are not representative of the
opponent's actual intentions.
3. Present someone who defends a
position poorly as the defender,
refute that person's arguments, and pretend that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has
4. Invent a fictitious persona with
actions or beliefs that are criticized, and pretend that the person represents
a group of whom the speaker is critical.
5. Oversimplify a person's argument
into a simple analogy, which can then be attacked.
often these tricks of rhetoric succeed because they are
unexpected and difficult to discern, but a well-grounded intelligence is not so
sum up, “first principles” are those that emerge from direct experience,
unmediated by our self-interest or artificial descriptions. Discriminating the
hidden agenda within purportedly honest opinions—especially our own—is a
primary task of all seekers of truth, allowing us to subtract those impediments
from our outlook. As usual, Nataraja Guru gets to the crux of the matter:
Here by saying that Krishna as
the Absolute is the enjoyer
of all sacrifices it is merely intended to explain in the
ritualistic language of the Vedas, that at one pole of the
bipolar situation there is the Absolute, while at the other
there is the sacrifices or aspirant. Whatever the form of the
sacrifice, a relation between the sacrificer and the Absolute
depends on having a right notion of the Absolute. Whether
this notion is of an academic perfection or not, it has to
be a correct one as far as it goes, here called tattvena
(in accordance with first principles). (402)
of the divinities go to the divinities, votaries of the ancestors go to the
ancestors, sacrificers to elemental existences go to the elemental existences,
and so too My worshippers attain to Me.
case there is any lingering doubt, Krishna unequivocally distinguishes himself
from all divinities in this verse. He is not a God. He symbolizes the Absolute.
“fall” of those who substitute imagery for first principles is made explicit
here. “My worshippers” adhere to first principles, while the rest are deflected
to a greater or lesser extent by their personal predilections. Everyone
worships something, even though they may not think of their beliefs as being worshipful.
But our hearts and souls are very much attuned to certain perspectives, and
these can at least be poetically described as forms of worship, since we are so
intimately wrapped up in them we don’t even realize they are specialized
framing—we simply take them for granted.
two primary threads of religious veneration are ancestor worship and worship of
deities. The divinities—gods—were classified as the Shining Ones in ancient
India. To these Krishna adds a third category, those who relate their sense of
wonder to the elements of creation. Nowadays we would refer to them as
scientists. Materialists. Those who are primarily interested in what they can
see. Their Absolute is addressed as Matter or Mother Nature. All of these forms
of worship are very valuable and meaningful, yet they fall short of the sublime
experience Krishna is doing his best to describe.
worship isn’t just being entranced by your genealogy. We tend to visualize it
as along the lines of the Chinese practice of burning money and letters so that
the smoke will carry them to deceased members of the family, or Mormons who
believe they can retroactively admit their forebears to heaven. Hindus set out
rice balls for the crows who are supposed to be their reincarnated
grandfathers. But ancestor worship also includes venerating those who are the
progenitors of our religious or tribal families, such as Moses, Buddha,
Muhammad, Jesus, Lao Tzu, and yes, even Krishna when treated as something less
than the Absolute. Plato, Newton, Darwin and Einstein are not far behind, in certain
circles. Looking to the past for inspiration is ancestor worship in a general
sense. While a direct relationship with the Absolute can only occur in the
present, independent of such references, there is obviously much to be gained
from imbibing the wisdom of the ancients, whenever we bring it into the present
in our understanding.
the majority of religious worshippers bow to heroes of the past, there is
always a sprinkling of mystics who open their hearts to the shining ones, the
god or gods they attempt to access directly in the present. And a very few
among these are able to strip away all pretense and come face to face with the
Absolute in its supernal glory. The rest adopt a miscellany of techniques that are
intended to channel energy to them. Mysticism taken that way can easily
degenerate into mere occultism, the chasing after fantasies. The Isa Upanishad
describes this as placing a brazen image of the sun in front of the actual sun,
and being content with the substitution.
each discipline there is a mundane approach and a more enlightened approach. If
you meditate on the ancestors to learn high values and examples of wisdom, that
is a far cry from merely hoping they will bail you out of your difficulties or
offer good luck for your selfish endeavors. You can meditate on the gods as
well, as examples of advanced psychological states and sublime love, or you can
call on them for the same selfish reasons. And the congregation of scientists
includes both those who focus on the minutiae of existence and keep their eyes
fixed on meaninglessness, and those who use a scientific attitude to vault into
rhapsodies of ecstatic wonderment at the magnificence of creation.
as the Absolute here, Krishna assures those who aim at completely transcendent
absolutist principles that they will achieve that transcendence. The universe
being reciprocal in nature, those whose vision is directed to a favorite
conception will be lodged where their vision takes them. It’s very similar to
the Buddhist belief that there is a separate heaven for each religion. If you
love your ancestors your highest vision will be of being gathered into the
bosom of your loved ones. If you love God you will meet your conceptualization
of it, whatever it might be. If it’s of a grandfatherly gentleman sitting on a
throne holding a trident, that’s what you’ll see. And if you hold with nothing,
that’s also what you’ll discover. The curious and perplexing fact is that
nothing, being unlimited, is more spectacular than any specific
conceptualization. Nothing exceeds all expectations. As Krishna will point out
in Chapter XII, relating to actual incarnations of divinity is much easier,
though ultimately the destination is the same regardless of whether you think
of something or nothing.
scientists don’t actually believe in nothing, whether or not they make such a
claim. If they implicitly worship evolution, perhaps they will come to grasp
the whole stupendous panoply of existence unfolding over time. If they worship
particles they will visualize themselves and their neighbors bathing in a warm
sea of quarks. Quarks, not sharks. Many worship life as nature. Mother Nature
is one of the most beautiful, enchanting gods of all. Even a Blind Watchmaker
can be made into a charming deity responsible for all of creation.
not stop with any one of these breathtaking visions, and leave the Absolute to
its own devices? It may or may not be your preference to seek the highest
truth, untainted by concepts, which no matter how grand are inevitably limited to
some degree. But the Gita is written expressly for those who want to become
free of all limitations. While Krishna assures everyone that they will receive
the full measure of their understanding, he is hoping Arjuna and we the readers
will be able to make the leap into an awareness that bursts the bonds of all
merger with the Absolute is indescribable, but over the next couple of chapters
many analogies will be offered in the attempt. Each analogy has its own boundaries,
so even these only serve to lead us up to the edge of the abyss. Taking the
leap is something else entirely.
all a matter of taste.
who offers to Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, that do I
accept as being offered with devotion by one who makes the right effort.
scriptures are filled with symbols. Part of the pleasure of studying them is in
decoding the symbols and making them relevant and meaningful to our present
life. Unknown to most casual readers, another graded series is presented here
in veiled form, offering an arboreal image of increasing maturity in the
devotee. Its significance is universally missed, a literal reading being the
norm. We are given a botanical symbol for brahmacharya, for walking the path of
the Absolute, which is traditionally depicted as having four distinct stages.
is a perfect example of a sublime teaching that is obscured by the accretion of
puerile interpretation and practice. Because it has been taken literally for
centuries, if not millennia, commentators look at the parade of simple folk
trustingly placing a flower on the altar as being endorsed by the Upanishadic
rishis. So they need look no further for the meaning of this verse. After all,
it’s a common practice to put devotional objects on altars! But to the wise,
any effort to understand intelligently is just as or more meaningful than
placing a banana in front of a statue, which has to be the most basic and
perfunctory relation with the Absolute possible. Let’s take a look at what
Krishna is really conveying, in a superlative metaphor.
is an eternal, vertical factor in living beings. A leaf has no reproductive
elements per se, but it takes in nourishment that leads to the development of
the ability. So the leaf is a very early—call it virginal—stage in the
reproductive process. Next the flower, the explosion of intricate beauty that
inspires hearts everywhere. The sexual or erotic aspects of life are symbolized
by the flower. Out of such youthful exuberance comes the mature fruit bearing
the seeds of immortality, a blueprint for the next generation. When the essence
of the fruit is extracted from the pulp, the final refinement is known as juice
or water. This symbolizes wisdom stripped of all its material trappings and
extraneous factors, in other words, its ideal or essential meaning. To put it
baldly, the reproduction in question is the reanimation of wisdom through a
well-examined life. We begin life in ignorance and develop wisdom during its
course, as in Bergson’s reversal of Newton: “The universe is a machine for
making Gods.” Four broad stages of the development are poetically epitomized
here as leaf, flower, fruit, and juice.
brahmachari is initially like a leaf, taking in nourishment in the form of
wisdom from the preceptor and storing it in their brain tissues. When enough of
this stimulating energy has been taken in, the student begins to “flower.” Like
a civilization in flower or the flowering of an art form, this means an
outburst of creative enthusiasm combined with a dedicated effort to actualize
the new forms. When the flower of burgeoning awareness is pollinated with
inspiration, it begins to develop into a fruit, which is the stage when other
beings can begin to take nourishment from the brahmachari. All the hard preliminary
work is coming to fruition or culmination, and “by their fruits ye shall know
them.” (Matt. 7.20. Actually, Matthew 7 is a worthwhile companion read to this
verse.) When the fruits are perfectly ripe, their natural tendency is to fall
on the ground and spread their seeds, to start the process anew. Here in this
symbol, the fruits are gathered and pressed for their juice, where they can
ferment into the “wine” of spirit. Others can sip the nectar for many years
after, and so partake of the same spirit directly themselves. In other words,
the student must become the teacher, so that the wisdom lineage can continue.
is not asking for simple offerings to be made at religious altars, he is saying
that in whatever stage of maturation the seeker may be, he accepts the
sincerity of their feelings over their degree of advancement. A simple child is
endeared to the Absolute exactly to the same extent as an enthusiastic neophyte
or a wizened pundit. What matters is their attitude, not their sophistication.
It’s beautiful to put a flower on the altar, but right understanding gives it
is the correct attitude for the Absolute to have, since it is always neutral.
Each person receives out of it what they put into it, plus the mysterious
blessing of divine beneficence to add some negentropy to the system. It’s a
harmonious feedback loop.
Tagore might have had the symbolism of this verse in mind when he penned, “The
leaf becomes flower when it loves / The flower becomes fruit when it worships.”
a religious sect or denomination has grown up at many points where the symbolic
language of the Gita has been taken literally. This is one such verse. Placing
a flower on an altar dedicated to the God Krishna has a widespread currency. If
done with perfection it is a unitive act, which automatically puts the devotee
in contact with the Absolute in whatever form is most dear to them.
Accompanying thoughts such as “This is a statement of my faith,” “I am
worshipping Krishna now,” or “Krishna says this is the thing to do,” all
vitiate the immaculate beauty of the gesture.
might laugh at such foibles as taking symbols literally, except that it is nearly
ubiquitous, and vehemently defended by the “faithful” everywhere. For instance,
many people insist that the Bible must be taken literally. Even though doing so
means Jesus literally said that he spoke in parables, the parables are to be
taken at face value. Therefore the image of seeds being strewn around, with
some landing on rocky, unfertile soil where they wither and die, while others
land on well-prepared, fertile soil and flourish, is really just about
agriculture. It does not, it cannot imply, because the Bible doesn’t literally
say it, that words of wisdom, which are the seeds of intelligence and are
spread by spiritual teachers, are comprehended by those who have prepared their
minds to understand, but they fall on deaf ears in those who have more mundane
interests. Literalists are one more version of the rocky soil where words of
wisdom expire unheeded.
should not be surprised that ancient texts rely more heavily on nature-based
metaphors than is the practice today, since people lived much closer to nature
in those days. Neil Douglas-Klotz, in his book The Hidden Gospel, examines the Aramaic roots of Biblical language,
which relies heavily on agricultural allusions. The original word used for good
means ripe, and the word translated
as evil means unripe. This takes the
heavy sting out of Biblical diatribes as they have come down to us, with their
thick barricade between the saved and the damned. So-called evil just needs
more time to ripen. It is in no way barred from becoming good, given enough
sunlight and nourishment. Viewing life like this teaches us to be patient with
the unripe people among us, instead of blasting them literally or figuratively.
We should lend them a hand rather than offering them a fist. This Biblical
ideal bears a close resemblance to the present verse, where the Absolute is
endeared by whoever approaches it, in whatever stage of development they may
you do, what you eat, what you offer, what you give, what austerity you
practice—let that be done as an offering to Me.
away we encounter another verse widely cited to uphold a trite attitude toward
spirituality. The difficult and expert practice of unitive action is watered
down to a tip of the hat to a deity. Just mentally offer whatever you are doing
to your favorite god and then carry on, and you have done your duty.
contrast, the mystical attitude presented here strives to see the Absolute as
infusing, inspiring and energizing every action. We “give back” to the creative
source by living fully, by expressing the divine energies in artistic and
meaningful ways. We already know that yoga is reason in action (II, 50) and
will soon be told the yogi is expert (XII, 16). A simplistic reading of this
verse, while not totally uncalled for, certainly sells Krishna’s teachings
short. Sometimes the Way is easy and sometimes it is difficult. Here we are
called to embody unitive action, which is a tremendous challenge involving all
our intelligence and talents. Chapter XVIII, verse 37 reminds us “that
happiness which is like gall at first, ambrosial at the end, born of lucid
self-understanding, is called sattvic.” There is always difficulty at the
beginning, but by now we should have passed the beginning. Without developing
lucid self-understanding we haven’t really gotten anywhere.
again, what you eat means more broadly what you consume: your intake of
stimuli. The whole being is under consideration here, not just one aspect of
it. What you give goes outward, and what you consume goes inward, like talking
and listening or teaching and studying. These should be in some form of yogic
balance, input and output equalized and well considered.
an interesting side study, the English words ‘offer’ and ‘offering’ occur
several times in this chapter, but they come from different Sanskrit terms in
every case. The first occurrence of “offering” here has a straightforward
sacrificial sense and undoubtedly refers to the image of the previous verse,
but the second instance is directed explicitly to the Absolute, and means
“consigning, entrusting, delivering or giving back.” This underlines the
reciprocal nature of all the actions mentioned. The Absolute inspires, and we
perspire. At first this could be dualistically imagined as being like a master
musician and their instrument, but with yogic expertise the two sides move ever
closer together, until musician and instrument are one unified expression of
Guru explains that between this verse and the similar-sounding Verse 34, the
Gita is including all previous threads of Indian spirituality under the
overarching notion of the Absolute, which it champions to an extraordinary
degree. “Offering” and “giving” sound redundant to our ears, yet in the
historical context they are quite distinct: the former refers to conventional
sacrifice and the latter to the generosity of spirit that effaces the ego and
opens the giver to a broader ambit.
sum up the revaluation of sacrifice intended by the Gita we can do no better than
to quote Nataraja Guru, from his Integrated
Science of the Absolute, Vol. II:
spiritual striving anywhere in
the world is meant to be comprised under this master notion of sacrifice….
Everything with good as an end has to involve some kind of sacrifice as a
means. Nothing is gained without risk of some sort, and sometimes one risks all
to gain all. These are basic notions in spirituality.
When man undertakes sacrificial works of various kinds to
attain high or low ends in the world of values, some sacrifices are superior to
others and imply an intelligent understanding of both the phenomenal and
noumenal counterparts in the world of the elementals or the gods. Both the
elementals and the gods, however, should be understood as implicit in the Self
of man who projects these worlds of value from within himself. It is in the
Self where ends and means are finally cancelled out in terms of final
liberation or emancipation. (12-13)
And lastly, Nataraja
Guru again on the important secret
implied here, from his Gita commentary:
sense of value and wisdom are
both brought together and the path merges with the goal, as we shall presently
see more clearly. Salvation is not something for which we wait at the end of
meritorious conduct, but the conduct itself when surrendered to the Absolute is
virtually a form of emancipation.
In this cancelling out of ends and means, the path and the
goal, of the meritorious actions and the resultant emancipation, consists the
secret of the yoga as presented in the Gita. (405)
you will be liberated from the bonds of action, whether its results are good or
evil. With self affiliated to unitive self-denial, as one thus emancipated you
will attain to Me.
when acting in bipolarity with the Absolute will this admirable result, the
liberation from bondage, occur. Dualistic thoughts of literal offerings to a
more or less literal Krishna don’t accomplish anything significant. Indeed,
they tend to produce bondage to a narrow view of life replete with obligatory
activities. When the Gita’s sage advice is put into practice, however,
including detachment from the desire for specific fruits of action based on
selfish interests (unitive self-denial), and a unitive awareness of full
participation in the Absolute, maximum freedom of expression flowers naturally.
vast amount of energy is spent assessing whether certain actions are good or
bad, with an eye toward increasing affiliation with the former and minimizing
the latter. The rishi knows that all actions contain elements of both good and
evil, and are experienced in different ways by different people. This is reflected
in the saying, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Relinquishment of
desire for fruits allows you to “roll with the punches” so called, to surf the
unpredictable waves of fate with expert flexibility. Very good actions can have
devastating effects on someone stuck in their path, and the adage “every cloud
has its silver lining” refers to the idea that even very bad things can turn
out to have happy consequences. We don’t have expectations because we really
don’t know how anything will turn out.
only do we obsess on judging events as good or evil, despite their being a
mixture of both, but our personal predilections and prejudices condition us to
take the neutral unfoldment of things either well or poorly. The wise route is
to make the most of whatever happens. Non-reflective people tend to either
exaggerate the upside with sugar-coated optimism, or resent the downside and
take it as a personal affront. It is not easy to find the middle ground between
these two poles, but Guru Krishna is helping his disciples to do exactly that.
Because of his transcendental neutrality, the guru is the one who can draw the
seeker into that exalted state from within. Krishna’s thoroughgoing neutrality
is underlined in the next verse.
regard all beings equally. To Me there is none hateful or dear. They, however,
who worship with devotion—they are in Me and I too am in them.
from the standpoint of the Creator is a unified whole, so from a cosmic
perspective every bit of it will have equal value. Only those who have strayed
from such a unitive vision can imagine separateness and posit good and evil
people, for instance. All are made up of the same chemicals, the same atoms and
subatomic particles, existing in the same time and space. Each is largely the
product of the events and instructions they have experienced. Certainly, no one
is monolithically good or evil—all have various admixtures of both within them.
It takes a really petty and unaware mind to want to isolate part of the whole
and take one’s frustration out on it.
we have pointed out before, picturing an angry, judgmental deity looking over
your shoulder day in and day out is about as inhibiting as anything it’s
possible to imagine. Here we are assured that there is no such animal. We stand
or fall based on our own decisions, and judge ourselves by our own light,
modified as it often is by the opinions of others. Judgment grounded in social
realties is one of the many temporarily useful things that must be set aside to
achieve bipolarity with the Absolute, otherwise described as freedom in action.
argument of busybodies that the instruction of an external Day of Judgment
prevents crime is absurd. Criminals famously do not pay heed to such matters, especially
while they’re committing their crimes. It’s the timid sheep of the flock who
worry about divine retribution and so seek security in being followers. They
either become stifled and inhibited, or their shadow side bursts out with a
vengeance, often with extreme criminality. Repression is a dangerous condition,
and inimical to mental balance. In the Gita’s view, connection with the
Absolute “prevents crime” and promotes good citizenship from the inside out.
When you truly realize the other person is yourself, any desire to do them harm
now the phrase “worship with devotion” should be properly understood by readers
of this commentary. Worship is the translation of upasana, akin to ‘Upanishad’, with the implication of sitting at
the feet of a guru, listening closely, and pondering the meaning of what is
heard. Devotion means focus, paying attention. When the contemplative sits at
the “feet” of and focuses on the teachings of the Absolute in whatever form
they might appear, a bipolar miracle happens: the apparent differences
disappear. The immanent and the transcendent merge. The devotee and the
Absolute participate in the same differenceless reality. No ritualistic
behavior is required.
verse as a whole is a perfect picture of yoga dialectics. It starts with
individual beings unaware of their common source, and a Creator beaming
benignly at them. Through contemplative wisdom, these two poles are brought
together without sacrificing their uniqueness. This is a supreme achievement,
celebrated here at the highest level of the Gita arch.
if one of very evil actions should worship Me with devotion exclusive of all
else, he should be accounted to be good all the same, merely by the fact that
he has a properly settled determination.
point of this seemingly shocking statement is that all are qualified to realize
their connection with the Absolute at any time. The connection is real and
unaffected by events. Nothing we think or do can destroy it, even utter
disbelief or debased behavior. Since the Absolute is the core of all, even the
worst of us have a chance to get it right just by getting in touch with our
speaking, if good actions do not accrue benefits that lead to realization, then
for precisely the same reason evil actions do not lead away from it. Attaining
the Absolute is a mysterious accomplishment, perfectly independent of actions
yet requiring a sincerely dedicated attitude.
the Absolute could be swayed or affected by what we do it would no longer be absolute:
unchangeability is a necessary condition of absoluteness. Moving to any
different position implies there is something that it is not, which is impossible
if it is truly absolute. This verse and the next express this truth and present
us with its primary implication.
is one place where modern religions and ancient wisdom are greatly at odds.
Religions, in order to maintain their relevance, advocate progressive goodness
as the means to please God and attain heaven. It is still a form of bipolarity,
but one that insists on the separateness of man and God. Vedantic philosophy,
by contrast, seeks union through an oceanic awareness of oneness within all
polarities, which it considers to be our own true nature.
and evil are not monumental blocks of black and white. We all have varying
degrees of darkness or “evil” in our makeup, but Krishna includes all types of
people in one sweep by saying that even the very worst of us, someone virtually
totally evil, can drop it in an instant if they see the light. Most people
conceive of themselves as primarily good and a little bit bad, so discarding
their stumbling blocks should be relatively simple. In the final analysis
though, the leap is about equally challenging for everyone, demanding a sharp
break from our habitual inclinations.
no one is perfect in respect to practical matters, if evil was a bar to
realization, no one would or could become realized. The belief that we must
become perfected before we can connect with our inner nature is a devastating
one, indefinitely postponing our entering the unitive state. It forces us to
focus on our faults and imperfections, in lieu of turning toward the perfection
of the Absolute, and such an orientation breeds guilt and shame. It’s of no
avail to feel guilty and run yourself down, in fact such attitudes block the
flow of participation in the present moment. We must let go of literally
everything to be realized.
focusing exclusively on our good behavior is equally distracting from
wholehearted absorption in absolute Presence. It tends to reinforce the
spiritual ego and substitute a prideful image for unalloyed truth. We must
discard our fixations on moral questions entirely, since good and evil are
twins, joined at birth. Krishna practices what he preaches and has a neutral
attitude toward all beings, as he underlines in Verse 29 above.
idea of devotion “exclusive of all else” of verse 22 is repeated here. The word
ananyah literally means “not
otherness,” or “excluding otherness.” When we see the world as consisting of
separate elements unconnected to our self, we are prone to acting with
hostility to those elements. The antidote is samah, seeing everything with sameness, seeing the Absolute in
everything. Samadhi has the same root, indicating that realization is in knowing
the unity of all things. When we experience an inner connectedness with the
Absolute and thus with all creation, we are fully prepared to enter into the
Absolute and become it. All the excellent qualities of a yogi (listed in X, 4-5,
and especially XIII, 7-11) come as a matter of course to one in a state of
sameness or “not otherness,” independent of their precise moral stature.
he becomes established in his own right nature and enters into eternal peace.
Believe Me in all confidence, Arjuna, that one affiliated to Me with fidelity
knows no destruction.
minute you cease wrestling with morality and stop judging yourself, pro or con,
you are already established in your true nature, which is the peaceful and
blissful Absolute. As the Bible suggests: “Judge not, and ye shall not be
judged.” (Luke 6:37.) Since realization of the Absolute is not the result of
any accumulation of merit, it always arrives “instantaneously.”
and evil are theoretical constructs forever in conflict. Most of our
superficial identity and belief systems are based on this polarity, and
therefore are subject to destruction. Affiliation with the eternal ground of
the Absolute places one beyond the reach of corrupting influences. At the risk
of having two Bible quotes under one verse, this equals an admonition in Jesus’
Sermon on the Mount: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where
moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay
up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19.) Heaven being understood
as a state of mind rather than a place, of course.
isn’t that good actions aren’t valuable. In their own right they are most
excellent, leading to happy outcomes, while evil actions embroil a person in
endless chains of misery. But these verses are not dealing with crime and
punishment, whether legitimate or illegitimate, which is a vast study of its
own, but one which falls entirely within the transactional realm. This is about
making the breakthrough from transactions to transcendence. The Gita’s method
is wholehearted affiliation with the Absolute, which is available to any and
all seekers at any time, and is not prohibited by any past or present moral
Gita points out more than once that a merit-based system is subject to failure,
and at best provides only temporary successes, such as a stay in heaven
followed by rebirth in ordinariness. Merit comes from choosing good over evil,
and so never attains the balance of the Absolute. Good leads to temporary
happiness; engulfment in the Absolute is the way of permanence.
people imagine that to attain wisdom you should follow an established program
and practice it dutifully, but in the Gita’s view that is the opposite of
wisdom. Flexibility and skillful interaction with whatever comes along is the
essence of spiritually motivated activity. If you are established in your own
true nature, which is the nature of all beings, “good” actions will be the
natural outcome of your state of mind. Regardless, all actions have a shadow
aspect, and remembering this helps keep us humble. As soon as you think, “I am
all good now,” a destructive crash is guaranteed in your near future.
bottom line is that it is much easier to set aside a contented and guilt-free
conscience to meditate with one-pointed devotion, than it is to let go of
angry, vengeful, guilt-ridden, or other negative mental states. That should be
all the motivation a seeker of truth requires.
too who resort to Me for refuge, whoever they might be, (whether) women,
workers, as well as farmer-merchants, all of sinful origin—they too attain to
the supreme goal.
okay, the modern thinker can’t help but be derisive of this verse, but a little
knowledge of the context helps us get over it. In the Gita’s day the two lower
castes, workers and merchants, comprising almost all of humanity, and all
women, of whatever caste, were considered innately sinful and banned from any
participation in matters spiritual. There have been times—not solely in the
distant past—when sharp divisions were drawn between the godly and the damned,
and when only certain elite members were allowed into the “inner sanctum” of
their religion. In the Gita’s time, if a lower caste person accidentally
overheard some Sanskrit chanting, even though they wouldn’t understand a word
of it, the crime was punishable by such tortures as having molten hot lead
poured in their ears. Most religions continue to maintain some sort of elitist
criteria to separate the insiders from the outsiders. The total subjugation of
women by men has only recently begun to ameliorate, and not without loud and
angry opposition from many who pretend to righteousness. Any gains in equality
between the sexes have to be considered precarious even now.
capitalist versions of brahmins and kshatriyas—the traditional upper castes—have
redoubled their efforts of late to crush workers’ rights movements and
proliferate sweatshops that are as abusive as the worst examples of chattel
slavery from days of yore. Mostly the problems of various types of inequality
have been resolved only in the imagination, while real world problems continue
to worsen. So this funny-sounding verse is actually quite germane. It occurs
almost exactly at the center of the Bhagavad Gita, indicating that equality and
fairness are absolutely the most important and central factors, immediately
adjacent to pure unalloyed union with the Absolute.
Gita is resorting to sarcasm to forcefully bring home the point about equality.
Krishna mentions the sinful origins of all these “lesser” types of human to
highlight the ugly and dualistic beliefs that were and still are widely held.
The Gita assures us that the wise see a manifestation of the Absolute in every
being, great or small. This point has been brought home on several occasions,
most notably V, 18 and VI, 8. Even non-human creatures are through and through
the Absolute. It’s perfectly straightforward that if we are all comprised of
the Absolute, we must all have roughly the same impediments and difficulties in
realizing who we are, no matter what our beliefs and social status might be.
And too, if we are all creations of the Absolute, how can some be more
deserving than others?
critical fact that transcends any form of logic is that while our mode of
thinking impacts others, we are the
primary one affected by it. By maintaining a benign attitude, we are being kind
to ourself, and when we are nasty, we are being cruel to ourself. No matter how
it might be excused, cruelty is a byproduct of a damaged psyche. Yogis direct
substantial efforts to heal their wounds, for their own and others’ benefit.
This healing can take place both from the inside out and from the outside in.
In other words, we can nurture feelings of love and project them outwards, and
we can allow ourselves to be inspired by words of wisdom that invite us to
treat other beings well, and bring about healing in that way also.
a holistic philosophy should fill us with wonder and joy. If we are instead
filled with disdain for others and anxiety about the size of our slice of the
pie, it is an indicator of faults in our perception, not in what is being
perceived. Negative feelings are the visible manifestation of psychic damage,
furnishing important clues as to where to apply the balm of understanding.
Fortunately, the Source continues to be perfect no matter how disastrous our
own model of it is.
cult of the selfish individual, being based on faulty logic, has produced a
subculture of parasitical and opportunistic monsters, who bleed whole regions
of the globe to concentrate profits in their personal treasure troves. When the
natural surpluses produced by human endeavor are plowed back into their own
communities, the whole community benefits. When they are drawn off by absentee
ownership, the community suffers, often severely. A cycle of despair is
initiated in the midst of abundance.
these lines of thought, Nataraja Guru interprets “of sinful origin” to mean
“caught in necessity.” We should ensure that our actions help liberate others
from necessity, rather than adding new layers of it to their lives.
the philosophy of the Gita were widely adopted by humanity, the effects on the
actual world would be tremendous. There is nothing “fatalistic” or
“otherworldly” about its ideology. The brilliance of yogic insight is to be
used to solve all problems, from the most ordinary to the most mystical.
Instead of a competitive rush to grab and sequester resources for personal
gain, which marginalizes all but the most greedy and aggressive participants, a
healthy sharing attitude is a mutual enhancement program. Intelligence is
harnessed in service to the greatest good, instead of maximizing short-term
profits for a few.
likely it would be impossible to legislate such a utopian vision, since it is
wholly dependent on a world comprised of thinking, caring human beings. By
participating in the wisdom sacrifice of the Gita, you make it possible to add
one more wise person to the world’s total: you. That’s the best contribution to
world peace and harmony anyone can make.
much more then the pure brahmanas, as also the devoted royal sages! Having
reached this transient joyless world do you worship Me.
the sarcasm is ratcheted up a notch: if even loathsome women and humble
servants can attain the Absolute, you wise and well-to-do insiders must have an
easy time of it. This is a direct challenge to the entrenched establishment,
which was undoubtedly corrupt in the Gita’s day, as establishments ever are.
They never fail to have a vested interest in maintaining inequalities.
The second part of the verse continues
the sarcastic tone, though it’s not as noticeable. All those wise pundits
preaching against the evils of the world should have no problem becoming
detached and attaining to the Absolute. Instead they become negatively attached
in so many insidious ways, covered up by pure hypocrisy. In the name of God
they strive to squeeze all the joy out of living. Krishna is calling their
bluff here. Yet this much is true: the world devoid of the inner pulse of the
Absolute, devoid of transcendent love, is empty and meaningless. Subtracting
the eternal element leaves only transient shadows, which cannot provide lasting
joy. Connecting with the Absolute floods the world with joy supreme, and that
is Krishna’s primary teaching.
second part of the verse bears further elaboration. The “world” without the
appreciation of consciousness, is basically a dead thing. Its meaning is what
we bring to it, and in our spiritual study we are learning to inundate it with
joy. But we should not make the common mistake of imagining that our joy is
caused by the world. Quite the opposite: the world is caused by our joy. Or our
misery, if that be the case. The world always appears to be colored by our
frame of mind. Because of this, yogis seek the lasting happiness that is not
dependent on external circumstances.
too often, when we have a joyous experience, we link how we feel with the
particular circumstances involved. Then we feel deprived when the circumstances
change, and imagine we cannot be happy without them. But because we cannot
count on circumstances remaining favorable, we must learn to ignite our own joy
independently of external stimuli. Then whatever we experience, good, bad or
indifferent, we can remain steady in happiness, while sharing our light with
those around us. The metaphor of worshipping the Absolute as a principle instead
of the form it has momentarily taken is an apt cipher for this idea.
importance of this change of heart cannot be overstated. It is possible to
adopt this radically revised perspective intellectually if we are persuaded by
the logic of seers we admire. Yet because intellection is often less that fully
convincing, we tend to drift back into being captivated by what happens to us,
anticipating or dreading what is likely to occur next. This can only impede our
availability to be present in the moment. Until we have a direct experience of
our own true Self, such as Arjuna will go through in Chapter XI, our intellect
will remain convinced in its core that the outside world is the cause of our
balanced here is admittedly tricky, because a passive attitude to worldly
events breeds a kind of insipid fatalism, while an overactive “can do” attitude
tends to shrink us down to operating only within our conscious parameters. A
yogi should therefore be eager to have the kind of transformative experience
that irrefutably demonstrates the superiority of the bliss of the Self as
opposed to the momentary and transient joys imparted by the happenstance of
one with Me; be devoted to Me; sacrifice to Me; bow down to Me; unifying thus
yourself, you shall surely come to Me, your supreme Goal none other than Me.
of the best “secrets” of this chapter is that this verse presents the ultimate
finalized position of the Gita. In a linear frame of mind, we don’t expect the
apex to be in the middle, but in the archlike structure defined by Nataraja
Guru it makes perfect sense. This central verse will be repeated at the end of
the work to underline its importance. The vision of the Absolute in Chapter XI,
by its very vividness, also draws attention to itself as a high point, but this
is the highest of the high, the top of the arch. The supreme moment of merger
with the Absolute occurs exactly in the middle of the work, where the outlook
is completely verticalized. Why a perfectly harmonized attitude is even
superior to a rare spiritual experience is an interesting mystery to ponder.
stages of a graded series descending from perfect unity to total duality are
spelled out in this formula, underlining that the Absolute is available to all
comers from whatever perspective they are able to approach it. “Become one with
Me,” means, clearly enough, total identification with the Absolute, in keeping
with the sweetest call of Krishna’s song. “Be devoted to Me,” indicates one
degree of separation, as in religious worship or, more generally, focused thought.
“Sacrifice to Me,” refers to ritualism and ceremony, while “Bow down to Me,”
pictures a wholly physical orientation in which worshipper and worshipped are viewed
as completely separate, though both poles are kept in mind.
Nitya has written an excellent elucidation of these four aspects:
verse is often interpreted theistically as becoming devoted to God, when it is
interpreted philosophically the theistic coloration looks only incidental. When
an individual transcends his body limitations, social conditionings, and psychic
colorations, his consciousness widens its horizons and gains the qualities of
being universal. This is how the idea of becoming of one mind is to be
understood. Additionally, the individual’s devotion in the social context is in
the procurement of his personal happiness. When this is given up in favor of an
altruistic dedication to effect universal harmony and the sharing of joy with
all, it can be interpreted as devotion to the Absolute.
Ignorant man sacrifices his health,
time and talents for the realization of his private ends. When the same is done
more openly for universal benefit, it becomes a sacrifice to the Absolute.
Bowing down to the Lord can be understood as consistently emphasizing a
universal value in preference to the transient pleasures of the world. As a
result, the individual becomes unified with the Absolute. When one promotes
himself to this level of understanding, it is possible to convert, in one’s
mind at least, both the appearance and meaning of this world into something that
can be easily accepted as one of precious values. The world is no longer
frightening to one with such a vision. (The Psychology of Darsanamala, 175-6)
Nataraja Guru’s Cartesian scheme of correlation, these four kinds of relations
with the Absolute correlate with the vertical positive, horizontal negative,
vertical negative and horizontal positive, respectively.
like to think that we express each of these at different times. They can also be
thought of as roughly paralleling the (uncorrupted) caste system, and thus
indicate separate venues for different personality types, but most of us are
built out of all the types together. We just emphasize some aspects more than
others, and at different times in our life. When we clean our house or dig our
garden we are sudras; when we do our finances we are vaishyas; when we play our
games, do art, party, and volunteer our services we are kshatriyas; and when we
sit quietly in contemplation or stroll by a mountain stream we are brahmins. In
terms of the present verse, in our mundane physical activities we might tip our
hats to God with an inner dedication; when we think or calculate we might
consciously include the Absolute or God as a factor in our ponderings; when we
play our sports or talk to friends we might abandon ourselves to our inner
guide in order to perform at our best; and we might also take time to meditate
with our minds emptied of all but the absolute supreme Value, inviting our
whole being to participate in the tiny sliver we are consciously aware of. Such
are the practical interpretations of the culminating verse of the Gita’s
teaching, where bipolarity between seeker and sought is brought to perfection.
let’s go somewhat deeper into each of these four relations with the Absolute.
We have already discussed oneness at length in this commentary, to the extent
that anyone can say anything about it. If we are unitively merged in the
Absolute, that state is self-ratifying and needs no verbal support. Words are
based on duality in one degree or another, so they naturally slip away when
unity is attained.
Buddhist “No mind” is, like all good maxims, confusing and ambiguous. We must
be fully present in what we do. The mind is the measure of our presence, but it
also can get in our way. The meaning of the phrase is perhaps better expressed
as “No distractions.” That’s why the Gita calls for one-pointed concentration.
You must bring your whole mind to a focused point of red-hot intensity to
attain the Absolute. Buddhist adepts dialectically combine “no mind” with
“mindfulness” to achieve a transcendent neutral state, akin to the oneness
Krishna is inviting here.
has to be totally present to make a perfect pot. No mind—no pot. Distracted
mind—wobbly pot. Perfect attention—beautiful pot. That’s what Krishna means
when he says, “Be fully devoted to Me.” He does not expect us to conjure up a
blue guy with a flute and carry out his bidding. Wholeheartedly concentering of
the mind in the Absolute is the optimal state for artistic expertise in action.
In oneness there is no division between the seeker and the sought. In devotion there
is one degree of separation, but the separate sides of the equation are equalized.
purport of “sacrifice to Me” is slightly more externalized than its
predecessor. At this stage intentionality is born, but your every action is
dedicated to bringing you to the unitive state. Sacrifice does not mean you
should light a fire and sprinkle holy water and rice grains in it, it means to
align your every moment toward realization. It’s a matter of personal
preference how you do this, whether you adopt a program or not, but the
direction of your activity is always toward the Absolute, toward universality.
In freely chosen action—our working definition of sacrifice—it means you choose
to learn and connect in your free time. “Time off” is not used as an opportunity
to escape from awareness and the perceived drudgery of living. You are eager to
live life to the hilt, drink it to the dregs, and hug it for all it’s worth. A
Buddhist idea works well here too, that human life is a rare opportunity to
attain enlightenment, one that may come along only once out of millions of
lives, so you should make the most of the chance when you are offered it. In
your life as a squirrel there will be no gurus, no libraries, no enlightened
discourse, no soma, no study groups. So use your all too brief hour of
strutting and fretting on the stage of human life as wisely as you can.
exhortation to bow down to the Absolute covers those times when we are not
paying attention at all, because we are engaged in everyday activities like
job, food prep and housekeeping. In these we don’t need to act like a Ninja
warrior or a Picasso, we are performing menial activities requiring little or
no brain power. The difference between a regular fellow and one who “bows down”
to a greater reality is that a harmonious attitude is built in from the start.
Knowing that the Absolute dwells in the hearts of all beings, for instance,
inspires us to act with kindness and consideration as a matter of course. Nor
will we feel sorry for ourselves, or blame our coworkers for our own
shortcomings. If we see that we are veering into some hostile attitude, we can
rectify it with reference to the loving neutrality of the universal ground, but
we won’t feel any need to repair ourselves by blaming someone else for our
down is not about groveling at the feet of some deity. It means incorporating the
wisdom we have gleaned into our everyday life. As such it covers a very wide
latitude for potential yogic activity, of opportunities for bringing compassionate
intelligence into action. As we do this, the joy of living expands
instance, we wash the dishes not with a sense of resentful drudgery but as one
more use of our body to accomplish a necessary task. See how the soap suds
reflect gorgeous colors, feel their slipperiness, admire how a common chemical
substance so easily removes dirt so that an even more common substance, water,
can rinse it away and carry it to a place where bacteria break it down into its
essential elements. How could you ever take such a miraculous process for
is a very interesting bit of evidence of cross-pollination long ago between the
Jews and the Indian rishis, with wonderful implications for Christians also. In
the Gospel of Mark, Jesus lays down the most essential creed of his religion,
such as it was, by citing the gist of the most essential prayer of Judaism, the
Shema, which closely parallels this present verse of the Gita:
And one of the scribes came, and
having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them
well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
And Jesus answered
him, The first
of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
thou shalt love the Lord thy
God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with
all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like,
this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment
greater than these.
And the scribe said unto him, Well,
Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other
And to love him with all the heart,
and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the
strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt
offerings and sacrifices.
And when Jesus saw that he answered
discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no
man after that durst ask him any question. [Mark 12: 28-34]
is far more than an accidental parallel with the
current verse. Recall that Krishna says first, “Become one with me;” Jesus
says, “Our God is one Lord.” Next, the Gita says, “Be devoted to me;” Jesus
says to love God with all your heart and soul. Third, the Gita instructs,
“Sacrifice to Me;” Jesus says to love God with all your mind, in keeping with
our definition of sacrifice as “freely chosen activity.” Lastly the physical
side of life is invoked in “Bow down to Me;” with Jesus saying, perhaps more
clearly, to love God with all your strength. He further clarifies the last
suggestion by directed his followers to love the rest of humanity without
reservation. These are not only the same concepts worded somewhat differently,
they are in the same hierarchical order.
seems almost certainly cognate to the Sanskrit kshema, meaning (MW): “giving rest or ease; basis, foundation;
safety, peace,” etc. It reminds us that all these great religions and
philosophies are one at their very heart, in more ways than we will probably ever
imaginary or virtual line passes vertically through the Gita between Chapters
IX and X. More than a line, it is an infinite space, or better yet a spaceless
gap, indicating the pure, unalloyed Absolute. The Gita began on the actual
battlefield of life and has become increasingly rarified and subtle over its
course. It is only fitting that a moment of perfect transcendence is implied
here at the apogee. As we have already noted, the first half is mainly
theoretical and the second half is about putting the theories into practice.
Chapter X will present the most refined aspects within actuality, initiating a
progressive return to the “battlefield” as fully instructed and enlightened