Nitya Teachings

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Chapter IX - Unitive Contemplation as Royal Science and Crowning Secret

                Raja Vidya Raja Guhya Yoga

 

         Chapters 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 religious classic.

         Beyond 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.

         Many 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.

 

1)         Krishna said:

         To 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.

 

         Chapter 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.

         Perfect 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.

         Cautionary 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.

         The 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.

         At 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.

         Since 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.

         An 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 the Gita.

 

         The 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.

         Dynamic 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.

         High 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 unconscious motivators.

         Perfect 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.

         Social 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.

         By 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.

         At 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 partnership.

         A 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.

         Such 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.

         Once 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 leaders.

          All 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.

         A 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 done.

         No 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.

 

2)         Royal science, crowning secret, purificatory is this, superior, objectively verifiable, conforming to right living, very easy to live, and subject to no decrease.

 

         As 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.

         First 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.

         Refined 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 life possible.

         God 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.

         All 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.

         Next, 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 with closed mindedness.

         Superior 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.”

         The 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.

         “Conforming 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.

         The 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.

         Surfing 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.

         Easiness 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.

         Being 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.

         Chanting 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.

         Lastly, 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.

 

3)         Men without wholehearted faith-affiliation to this way of right living, not attaining to Me, return to the paths of mortality and cyclic repetition of existence.

 

         As 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.

         Entering 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.

         Right 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.

         Whenever 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 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.

 

4)         By Me all this world is pervaded, My form unmanifested; all beings have existence in Me and I do not have existence in them.

 

         This 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         Mathematically, 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.

         Each 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.

         One 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 entertaining.

         In 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 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 Absolute.

 

5)         And 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.

 

         As 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.

         Calling 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.

         Recent 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 with analogy.

         The 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.

         Luckily, 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.

 

6)         As 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.

 

         Despite 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.

         One 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.

         It’s 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 talking about.

         Being 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.

         Having 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.

         The “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.” (p.44).

         Ultimately, 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.

 

7)         All 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.

 

         The 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 over again.

         This 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.

         We 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 astrophysicists.

 

8)         By virtue of My nature, I emanate again and again the whole aggregate of beings, subject as they are to the necessary compulsion of nature.

 

         The 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.

         The “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 their development.

         Nataraja 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.

         Returning 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:

 

The 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)

 

         The 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.

 

9)         Further, these works do not bind Me, Arjuna, for I am seated, seemingly indifferent, unattached to those actions.

 

         Existence 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 superficiality.

         This 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.

         Krishna 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.

         As 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.

         The 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.

         The 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 in danger.

         Verse 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 there.

 

10)         With Me presiding, nature gives birth to both the movable and the unmovable entities; because of this the world revolves.

 

         Here 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?

         The 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.

         Our 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.

         Certainly 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) with it.

 

11)         The 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.

 

         Here’s 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 fixations.

         This 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 pointing at.

         This 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.

 

12)         Of 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.

 

         Sad 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 for.

         In 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.

         Many 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 sort.

         Casting 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 together.

         What 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.

         If 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 exception.

         The 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.

         In 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.

         Nataraja 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.

 

13)         But 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.

 

         The “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 of chapters.

         Krishna 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.

         Once 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:

 

The disciple 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 guru.

  This is 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.

 

The Guru 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.

 

14)         Always singing praises of Me, ever striving, firm in vows, and saluting Me devotedly, they are ever united in worshipful attendance;

 

         This 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.

         Vows 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.

         When 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.

         There 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:

 

Scriptures 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)

 

         I 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.”

         An 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.

         I 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.

         So 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.

         The 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.

 

15)         Others also, sacrificing with the wisdom sacrifice, unitively, dualistically, as also in many ways facing universally everywhere, worshipfully attend on Me.

 

         Krishna 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 understanding.

         The 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.

         Dnyaneshwar 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:

 

Listen 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, pp. 125-26)

 

Not bad for someone who died at around the age of 21, eh?

 

16)         I 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 offering.

 

         We 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 heart.

         The 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.

         All 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.

         Not 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.

         These 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.

         Yet 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.

         Healing 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.

 

17)         I 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.

 

         Verses 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.

         Mother 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.

         Most 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 out “voila!”

         The 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.

         It’s 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.

         Everyone 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.

         The 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.

         Aum 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.

 

18)         I 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.

 

         The 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.

         Christianity 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 might be.

         The 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.

         We 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.

         The 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.

         This 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 concepts.

         Modern 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.

         The 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.

         Being 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.

         The 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 distinctions.

         Krishna 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.

         Less 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.

         This 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.

 

19)         I radiate heat and I rain, I withhold and I send forth, I am immortality and death, as also being and nonbeing, Arjuna.

 

         The 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.

         Being 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 to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time 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 to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

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 hate; 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.

         Being 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 universe.

         Nataraja 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.

         Radhakrishnan 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!

 

20)         Knowers 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.

 

         Verses 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.

         Somewhat 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).

         The 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.

         The 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.

         In 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.

—“Soma.” Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online. <http://www.pantheon.org/articles/s/soma.html>

[Accessed November 20, 2007].

 

         No 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.

         In 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.

         It 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.

         Hungry 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.

 

21)         They, 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.

 

         Ordinary 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.

         We 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 sufficient energy.

         Soma, 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.

         So 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.

         If 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.

 

22)         To 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.

 

         The “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.

         The 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.

         On 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: self-realization.

         The 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 best.

         Anyone 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, without limits.

 

23)         Even those who, devoted to other gods, worship them with faith, they in fact worship Myself, though not conforming to orthodox rules.

 

         Here’s 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.

         “Orthodox 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.

         Krishna 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!

 

24)         I am indeed the Enjoyer, as also the Lord of all sacrifices; but they fall indeed who do not understand Me according to first principles.

 

         Krishna 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.

         The 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.

         Not 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.

         Doubt 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 Absolute.

         Speaking 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.

         If 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.

         If 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.

         One 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 Gita recommends.

         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, you can:

 

1. Present a misrepresentation of 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 been defeated.

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.

 

Very often these tricks of rhetoric succeed because they are unexpected and difficult to discern, but a well-grounded intelligence is not so easily misled.

         To 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)

 

25)         Votaries 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.

 

         In 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.

         The “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.

         The 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.

         Ancestor 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.

         While 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.

          Within 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.

         Speaking 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.

         Most 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.

         Why 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 mental imagery.

         Total 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.

         It’s all a matter of taste.

 

26)         He 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.

 

         All 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.

         This 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.

         Reproduction 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.

         A 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.

         Krishna 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 meaning.

         This 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.

         Rabindranath 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.”

         Amusingly, 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.

         We 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.

         We 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 be.

 

27)         What you do, what you eat, what you offer, what you give, what austerity you practice—let that be done as an offering to Me.

 

         Right 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.

         By 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.

         Once 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.

         As 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 glorious music.

         Nataraja 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.

         To 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:

 

All 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:

 

The 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)

 

28)         Thus 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.

 

         Only 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.

         A 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.

         Not 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.

 

29)         I 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.

 

         Creation 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.

         As 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.

         The 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 disappears.

         By 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.

         This 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.

 

30)         Even 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.

 

         The 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 inner Self.

         Methodologically 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.

         If 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.

         This 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.

         Good 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.

         Since 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.

         Similarly, 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.

         The 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.

 

31)         Instantaneously 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.

 

         The 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.”

         Good 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.

         It 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 status.

         The 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.

         Many 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.

         The 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.

 

32)         They 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.

 

         Well, 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.

         The 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.

         The 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?

         The 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.

         Such 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.

         The 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.

         Along 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.

         If 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.

         Very 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.

 

33)         How much more then the pure brahmanas, as also the devoted royal sages! Having reached this transient joyless world do you worship Me.

 

         Here 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.

         This 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.

         All 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.

         The 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 mental states.

         Remaining 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 outer events.

 

34)         Become 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.

 

         One 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.

 

         Four 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.

         Guru Nitya has written an excellent elucidation of these four aspects:

 

Although this 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)

 

         In 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.

         I 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.

 

         Now 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.

         The 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.

         One 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.

         The 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.

         The 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 faults.

         Bowing 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 exponentially.

         For 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 granted?

         There 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:

And 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, namely 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 but he:

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]

 

This 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.

         Shema, 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 know.

 

         An 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 participants. 

Scott Teitsworth

rsteitsworth(at)yahoo.com