matter how fine a teaching might be, it is only words and their associated
concepts until it is converted by the learner into a direct experience of some
kind. Chemists study up to date theories about the elements and their
properties, but they don’t become true chemists until they handle actual
chemicals and start mixing them together. Before that they are merely students.
Teachers first learn the principles of teaching in school, but they are only in
training until they go out and stand up in front of a classroom. This is a
common progression for nearly all expressions of dharma, a person’s true
calling, including in matters of the spirit. The time has come in Arjuna’s
unfoldment to move from theory to practice, to put his knowledge into action
via realization, in other words, to make it real.
everyone’s life there is plenty of scope for action, good, bad or indifferent,
but what makes it fully realized and particularly valuable is some type of
direct experience of the Absolute itself. As we will see, the impact of such an
experience is profound, infusing and informing every aspect of existence with a
dramatically heightened awareness.
wandering in the desert, meditation, extreme exercise, near death experiences,
and many more techniques can produce profound mental and emotional states, and
all have been practiced by humans since ancient times. However, there is every
reason to believe that the events described in this chapter are a psychedelic
medicine trip. Nothing is explicitly stated, but the resemblance is striking
for anyone who has undertaken one. There is an archetypal opening up process being
described here that can tell us a great deal about how the mind responds
spiritually to a variety of intense stimulations.
soma ceremony, in which a potion probably prepared from magic mushrooms was
imbibed, was a frequent practice in ancient India, and infuses the Vedic
scriptures to a remarkable degree. Although the later philosophic critiques of
the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita tend to be rationally oriented, ecstasy
remains as an important feature of them. While sometimes harrowing enough to be
severely unpleasant, a carefully planned and guided soma trip is comparatively
civilized and much less hazardous than most of the alternatives.
orthodox sensibilities have overlaid a puritanical blanket of denial onto the innocence
and sacredness of the ancient soma rituals. Only in the second half of the
twentieth century did those ceremonies come to be appreciated anew as having
tremendous spiritual potential. Now that they have been, they demand a place in
a fully realized commentary.
Gita does not explicitly recommend any specific form of ritual behavior, but
provides intelligent guidelines for bringing each life to its full potential.
The way taken will depend on individual choice and the so-called accidents of
fate. Because of my own familiarity with psychedelic medicines, especially LSD,
I feel qualified to describe their spiritual efficacy in broad outline. The
Gita’s absolutist take on Arjuna’s experience, whatever it might have been,
could well serve as a blueprint for anyone in a position to try a similar
might expect Arjuna’s mindblowing vision of the nature of the Absolute to come
at the high point of the arch of the Gita, in Chapters IX or X. In fact,
Arjuna’s experience takes place a little past the peak. The reason for this is
that those two central chapters are focused almost exclusively on Krishna’s
nature as the Absolute. In their purely vertical orientation, there is not yet
enough of Arjuna present to have any kind of experience, no matter how sublime.
Krishna’s glowing description of the Absolute did clarify his mind, though, and
now he is properly prepared for a brief but vital merger with the fundamental
ground of existence.
that speech which has been spoken by You out of favor for me—-the highest
secret known as pertaining to the Self—-this, my confusion, has vanished.
XI begins with Arjuna expressing his appreciation to Krishna that the Guru’s
words have removed his confusion. Vedanta holds that words are the magical link
that bridges the gap between the cosmic and the mundane, the transcendent and
the immanent, ideals and actualities. When the bipolarity is perfect between
the two sides of the “conversation,” it opens the door to a cosmic vision of
therapy has lost respect in psychotherapy recently, due to a number of factors,
not the least of which is the limited and limiting understanding of the mind on
the part of the average therapist. A guru, by comparison, is expected to have a
thoroughgoing knowledge of a canvas far larger than that of the typical college
graduate. The transformation of the patient or disciple is commensurate with
the wisdom of the therapist or guru, and here in the Gita we are working with a
teacher of unparalleled stature. He has demonstrated over the first ten
chapters that he is a knower of every aspect of existence. Would that all
guides could bring similar credentials to their meeting of the minds!
are few guides who can gently lead another person to the verge of a
breakthrough, and then know just how much to either push or step aside at the moment
of truth. I have seen and heard of many cases where a mediocre therapist takes
a patient halfway through recovery and then stops, or, more commonly, continues
to rehash the same painful territory as long as the payments continue. A
patient may also lose heart at a stressful moment and abandon the investigation.
One has to go all the way “there and back again” to be properly cured, and we
all suffer to some degree from the malaise of not digging deep enough.
factor for the decline of talk therapy is that words are essentially signs
representing ideas, not the ideas themselves. It is not unusual for people to
mistake the map for the territory and never actually go anywhere, since reading
the map captivates their interest. But it would be a shame to also mistake a crudely
drawn map for an accurate representation of what it depicts, as often happens.
single idea can have multiple words representing it in all the languages in the
world, leading to cross-cultural and even intra-tribal confusion. But “a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet,” as Shakespeare says, meaning the
reality of something is the same despite its varied descriptions. On the other
hand, when by the use of words one’s confusion is destroyed, as Arjuna claims
here, the unconfused remainder is the field of the Absolute. Taking the small
step and giant leap from the idea of the Absolute to the experience of it is a
like a rocket trip to the moon after dreaming about it for generations. Words
and their concepts that come closest to the essence of what they stand for
offer this potential. Still, some sort of leap into the unity of idea and
essence remains to be accomplished.
experience is something we have almost forgotten in our love affair with verbiage.
As infants we experienced everything directly and intensely, but as we learned
to mediate our experience with thoughts and their attendant words we became
“sophisticated.” We excelled at interpreting our lives in simple terms that we
and others could easily comprehend and appreciate. This parallels Arjuna’s
imprisonment in the snares of social convention right from the Gita’s opening
fanfare. As we grow older, vivid experiences become more and more rare.
Memories flood in automatically to compare what is presented to awareness with
past experience. Fully mediated experience is dull, lacking zest. When all we
can do is interpret the new in terms of the old, we slide into senility. Before
long death comes to liberate us from our folly, quite possibly to give us a
fresh start and a new lease on life. Who knows? But such a fate is not for
Arjuna just yet. He has opted for stepping out of the rat maze of expected
outcomes and into the rushing stream of the immediate present.
origin and dissolution of beings have also been heard by me in elaboration from
You, O Krishna, as also Your unexpended greatness.
lays it on a little thicker, acknowledging his teacher’s value preparatory to
requesting the supreme vision. At the beginning of his discipleship he merely
asked Krishna to advise him on how to act in a baffling situation. Gradually he
has progressed to the point that he is now going to beg to see behind the
curtain into the inner workings of the universe. Previously he was dependent on
so many things—on his social role, his needs and desires, his intellectual
awareness—but now he is prepared to become fully independent and leave them all
behind, if only for a short while, so he can learn what freedom feels like.
one of the many paradoxes of this earthly realm that the agents of
bondage—-words—-are also the tools of liberation. Yet on closer scrutiny this
is logical. To escape a trap we must go out the way we came in. As in the
ancient folktale, we can use a thorn to remove a thorn stuck in our toe. But
once the injurious sliver is removed the healing happens on its own. Or as
Chapter VI puts it, “yoga takes its course painlessly.”
declared liberation from confusion is a sign that under his guru’s guidance he
has freed himself from the oppression of psychological thorns. His impending
experience will launch him into a new type of exalted confusion that he hasn’t
even dreamed of, but for now he has been cured of his original malaise.
we will see, the words of this chapter are doing their utmost to indicate that
which transcends their limitations. They may also imply that the magical brew
of soma is being imbibed by Arjuna to assist in the changeover, though it is
not specifically mentioned. As noted earlier, we have only a suspicious
similarity to a “typical” psychedelic trip, if there is such a thing, and the
historical fact of soma ingestion as an integral part of ritual practices in
those far off, far out times.
outstripping the descriptive possibilities of the mind for a time, and thereby
breaking the bonds of his upbringing and acculturation, Arjuna will spend the
rest of the Gita reintegrating his vision, learning how to put his experience
into new words and concepts so that he can function optimally as part of his
society and his world. Some visionaries remain floating in the emptiness of
interstitial reality that we call space; others return to share their wisdom
with their fellows back on earth. It’s a matter of taste and predilection, but
a finalized teaching must include direction for the return trip just in case.
It’s a poor space program that would send you to the moon with a one way ticket!
it is as You have said Yourself, Supreme Lord; I desire to see Your divine
Form, O Supreme Person.
many people simply accept what they hear in church or read in a book, nod their
heads, and go on about their business? They are “believers,” and please don’t
upset their beliefs with anything vivid. Arjuna is different. He has heard all
about it; now he is dying to see for himself. He wants to make the teachings
his own, as realized experience. Until he does this he remains a parrot or a
sheep, or at the very least a neophyte.
than its underlying falseness, the main problem with unquestioning obedience or
rote repetition is that you are vulnerable to the manipulations of others.
Psychologist Alice Miller has made an excellent case that the Nazi’s success in
Germany was due in large measure to strict obedience training for the young. Children
were raised to deny their own truth and kneel before authority, first parental
and then social, so when that authority turned vicious, whatever reservations
they might have had were overridden by their impulse to comply. Their
acquiescence meant they were only doing what they had been groomed to do. They
were “well behaved” by the standards they had been taught, even though their
behavior itself was insane and incredibly cruel.
history is filled with similar disasters brought on by willing followers who
should have known better. Clearly we must break out of the sarcophagus of
learned behavior and reclaim our aliveness. We must rediscover authentic
experience, and dare to make our own decisions and draw our own conclusions.
The Gita is always headed in this direction, as shown by Krishna’s final advice
to Arjuna at the very end: “critically scrutinizing all, omitting nothing, do
as you like.”
of this, it is a methodological necessity that Arjuna request the vision, and
also that he be granted it.
You think that it is possible for me to see it, then do You, O Master of Yoga,
show me Your never-decreasing Self.
it comes about, realization must be accompanied by the surrender of our static
mindset. As long as we cling to what we believe we know, we cannot get outside
ourself. Here Arjuna surrenders himself fully into the care of his beloved
guru. Usually surrender is a tentative gesture. For it to succeed it must be
completely unrestrained. Whole hearted.
already noted, the parallels between what Arjuna is about to experience and a
psychedelic drug trip are uncanny, and it would be irresponsible of me to
disregard them. At the same time one cannot ignore the negativity with which
they are often viewed. What was once sacred is now treated as sacrilege by
some. As always with what I write, the reader is free to decide for themselves.
of many reasons for the suppression of what has been learned in the past from
psychedelic drug use, along with banning the drugs themselves, is that a lot of
the experimentation in the modern era was unguided and thus chaotic or even
occasionally harmful. Later it was learned that most of the reported harm was
fictitious propaganda or had been caused by other, more dangerous medicines. In
fact, the modern day relatives of the ancient soma of India are surprisingly
benign, and even more so when “used as directed,” and under the care of an
importance of a guru, nowadays more often called a guide, cannot be
overestimated. The unknown territory of the mind is vast and full of pitfalls,
dead ends and other dangers. How many of us would strike out into the Amazon
rain forest on our own, with little or no preparation? But many carefree young
adults did just that with respect to the jungle of their unconscious. It is a
testament to the benignity of psychedelics that so few problems actually
occurred. Yet who would risk potential trouble if help was readily available?
is wisely asking for guidance from his guru, and not just to prevent disasters.
Traveling in subtle realms it is easy to miss much of value. A guide can help
reveal significant ideas, but most importantly they can redirect confused
thinking into more profitable regions. As Arjuna has come to fully trust his
guide, he can defer to him with confidence. Equally important, though not
always acknowledged, is that the guru has to trust the disciple just as much.
In the course of their long association, Krishna has come to know Arjuna inside
and out, and has no doubt that he is ready enough for the upcoming experience.
His familiarity will be crucial in taking appropriate corrective measures if
Arjuna freaks out and gets weird.
taking a trip is highly vulnerable to suggestions, and it would be shameful but
very possible for someone to press their own convictions onto the journeyer. It
happens in religious and political institutions all the time, where it’s known
as brainwashing. Coming to know and trust your guide is similar to attaining
bipolarity with your guru. It takes time and thoughtful preparation.
any intense experience must be entered into with clear intentions. Arjuna shows
us the proper, wide-awake frame of mind with which to begin. How often have
those who had revelations on LSD thought “Wow! If I could just turn everybody
on to this it would solve all the world’s problems!” Unlike an interpersonal
spiritual transmission, with drugs you can just slip somebody a pill and away
they go. Occasionally this urge has been acted upon. But the soaring sense of
kindness and love experienced on an intentional trip is not likely to happen by
accident. Entering the unbounded state unprepared brings only a thousand forms
of terror. Part of a correct mindset is knowing what has caused the unsettling
state of awareness, and that it will wear off eventually.
well recall some trips where entire dimensions were revealed at the speed of
light, over and over, seemingly endlessly. It knocks the ground right out from
under your feet, believe me. Knowing that I would “come down” in a few eons was
reassurance against the mind-melting fear that being lost in infinity can breed.
It seemed impossible that I would ever emerge from the maze, yet naturally and
of its own accord it happened, as the drug wore off. Having a guide present to
remind you of this eases away the fear, and replaces it with a sense of
security to enable eager exploration. Alone and unprepared you might lose your
way and miss some valuable learning opportunities as well.
proper basis for a successful trip requires attention to what are called the set
and the setting. ‘Set’ refers to the state of mind with which you begin, which
tends to be greatly amplified as the trip progresses. A sour state of mind will
most likely lead to a sour outcome, a bitter mindset to a bitter adventure,
sweet to sweet, and so on. ‘Setting’ means the immediate environment, which
also has a profound effect on the nature of the experience. The impact of set
and setting will be discussed in more depth in verse 23 and elsewhere in this
Arjuna, My forms, by hundreds and thousands, various in kind, divine, and of
varied colors and shapes.
his psychological and ideational preparation is now complete, Krishna instantly
grants Arjuna’s request to have a direct experience of the Absolute. Like a
magician he sweeps his arms apart and cries “Behold!” It is left to our
imagination how the mystery is revealed; merely reading that the guru shows or
enlightens the disciple doesn’t actually tell us anything.
theologian Thomas Merton points out that true revelations must come as a gift,
lest they be tainted by our own limitations. In The New
Man (The New American Library, 1963) he writes: “The
meanings we are capable of discovering are never sufficient. The true meaning
has to be revealed. It has to be ‘given.’ And the fact that it is given is,
indeed, the greater part of its significance: for life itself is, in the end,
only significant in so far as it is given.” While the revelation is granted
from without, in a sense, opening oneself to it is the task of the seeker.
quests, fasting, extreme exercise, self-infliction of pain, self-abnegation,
sensory deprivation for extended periods, and many other techniques have been
shown to help bring the practitioner to the verge of the radically renormalized
mentality described here. Neuroscientists can think of the experience as one
where the “right brain” temporarily becomes dominant, which most often occurs
when stress suppresses parts of the left hemisphere, as in a stroke. Many
spiritual techniques may simply help the practitioner to bypass left hemisphere
dominance so they can re-experience the oneness of the so-called right brain.
angle just being explored in brain studies is that our inner “guidance system”
resides in the deepest parts of the brain. The topmost region of the cortex is
responsible for our most sophisticated abilities and is what we identify as our
consciousness, but it is incomplete. It floats on top of the emotional and
survival mechanisms that appear to have evolved earlier. It may be that
spiritual techniques quiet the cortex and allow us to bring the light of
consciousness into these deeper parts of our makeup, which may well harbor our
genius propensities, spiritual sensibilities, and more. Rationalists often scorn
these deep levels, because they are asocial and include violent aspects, but I
would like to propose that they are much more than that. This is where the
intelligence that regulates our metabolism, and possibly the general unfoldment
of our lives, resides. Losing conscious contact with it has put us at the mercy
of external forces that often do not have our best interests in mind. Finding a
way to reacquaint ourselves with them and integrate them with our conscious
mind is an important aspect of spiritual development.
union with the Absolute may be taken to mean, the Gita emphasizes that it can
be brought about gently, without stressing the body or pushing it to the verge
of death. The Gita’s yoga is the easy, nonviolent route. Its premise is that
attaining a dynamically neutral state of mind opens the door to a
transformative vision. Psychedelic exploration with proper preparation is
similar in being gentle and safe, and not requiring the sacrifice of good
health. When I speak about that particular method in reference to Arjuna’s
intense experience, please consider it to be inclusive of any and all
efficacious techniques. The path of the Absolute may be followed from every possible
angle, as Krishna assures us in IV, 11 and elsewhere.
is important to keep in mind that ‘neutral’ does not mean empty or vacuous.
Yogic neutrality takes place when the sides of the equation are equalized, or
the polarities in a conflict are brought into balance. Nothing is left out.
Rather, it energizes us to be fully and intelligently engaged with every aspect
of our life.
scales of justice aptly symbolize yogic neutrality. When both sides of a
conflict are equal it demonstrates a fair decision; the more unequal they are,
the less justice is served. Balance scales are also used in the marketplace.
The weight of the produce is correct when the scales balance and incorrect when
they do not, even though each side contains a totally different substance: one
vegetable and the other graded lumps of metal, say. Neutrality is dynamic, and
embraces all aspects of the situation. When we favor one side, usually “our”
side, it conveys a subtle injustice to the entire situation that in the long
run harms us far more than the demands of equality ever could.
stages of the psychedelic experience are lit with spectacular colors and
rapidly modulating imagery, only faintly reflected in the most outlandish art
of the human race, mandalas and op art posters and so on. It is said that
meditating on a mandala can bring you to enlightenment, but it’s more probable
that mandalas are, like their modern counterparts, attempts to reproduce some
faint echo of the visions that the artist personally experienced. As wild as
most psychedelic paintings are, the flowing imagery of the trip is thousands of
times more intense, and capable of changing completely in the blink of an eye.
There is often synesthesia as well, where the colors and patterns are
viscerally palpable and dancing in synch with any inner or outer music that is
present. Synesthetes are known to see sounds and hear colors.
visions have been described as hallucinations, especially by the uninitiated,
but while highly imaginative they are far from unreal. In a way the mysteriously
encoded picture-language that suffuses the brain all the time, the product of a
lifetime of sensory experience, is unleashed in a torrential and highly
artistic flood. It is possible to intuit much about one’s mind from watching
the imagery, but the display is so gripping and absorbing that coherent
conceptualization is only possible after the experience comes to a close. The
word psychedelic itself means “mind manifesting,” by the way, and I use it
intentionally in that sense.
the Adityas, the Vasus, the Rudras, the two Asvins, and also the Maruts; behold
many marvels never seen before.
the initial play of colors, a proper spiritual trip moves quickly into more
cosmic realms, although visual effects may persist throughout. In this verse we
begin to encounter demigods, who are the personification of natural principles.
Decoding what the names stand for reveals that they are, among other things,
stages of a psychedelic experience.
6 presents an extremely compressed outline of the early stages of a trip. There
is immersion in white light (Adityas); unity with the elements of the world
(Vasus); mental distress (Rudras) occasioned by the yawning gulf between the psychedelic
state of mind and familiar reality; insight into truth and the meaning of life,
especially of one’s own destiny (Asvins); and finally, appreciation of the
divinity of all beings (symbolized by the Maruts).
these exotic beings except the Asvins were specifically mentioned in the last
chapter, and all will take a final bow in verse 22 of this one. Here Krishna is
at last revealing to Arjuna what he only briefly described before. Earlier he
taught that he was the essential core of each of them, but now actual suns
(Adityas are “cosmically brilliant lights”) and the rest, are rising in the
firmament of Arjuna’s consciousness, one after the other.
intense white or clear light of the “suns” causes all separate objects and
thoughts to melt together into a state of unity. Whatever intellectual ideas about
oneness were held before, now oneness is an undeniable fact, a berry in the
palm of Arjuna’s hand. The certitude induced by an experience like this is
overwhelming, palpable, pulverizing of all doubts. The narrator Sanjaya will
describe this most classic of visionary experiences from his more circumspect
perspective in verse 12.
trip doesn’t build up to “seeing the light” gradually, there is a short period
of the play of colors and then almost immediately the shining oneness bursts
through. The trajectory of a good trip is like fireworks, which shoot up as
rockets to explode in the sky, and then slowly dissolve and settle back to
this heightened state of awareness there is additional synesthesia where the
elements (Vasus) become tangible. In an exalted mindset the yogi “becomes one”
with the water of a stream or the flame of a fire, for instance. Not that it
actually turns into water or fire, but the mind is captivated so completely by
what it perceives that the sense of being a detached observer is temporarily
erased. The reality of what the senses are registering is more alive than ever
before. It is not uncommon to even feel at one with nature in its entirety,
which is a supremely uplifting sensation.
lot has been written regarding the burgeoning of ecological awareness due to the
psychedelic insight that we are intrinsically connected to a greater whole.
Recently, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) ran
an entire issue of their magazine (Vol. XIX, #1) on psychedelics and ecology.
In it, President Rick Doblin writes:
the connection is so direct and fundamental and so inherently present that it
requires no intellectual acrobatics to perceive the connecting threads. Albert
Hofmann, the inventor of LSD, spoke about the connection between psychedelics
and ecology to psychiatrist Stanislav Grof during an interview in 1984. He
said, “Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware
of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant
kingdom. I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of
us.” According to Craig Smith, the reporter who wrote Albert’s New York Times
obituary, “Dr. Hofmann became an impassioned advocate for the environment and
argued that LSD, besides being a valuable tool for psychiatry, could be used to
awaken a deeper awareness of mankind’s place in nature and help curb society’s
ultimately self-destructive degradation of the natural world.”
The link between
ecology comes primarily from the long-term changes in attitudes and behaviors
flowing from these mystical experiences, which of course can and do occur
sometimes in therapeutic studies and can certainly be produced without the use
of psychedelics. These are core human experiences that psychedelics can help
facilitate. The essence of the mystical experience is a sense of unity woven
within the multiplicity, forging a deeply-felt and unforgettable common bond
between humans, other life forms, nature and matter. This common bond can
generate respect and appreciation for the environment, for caretaking and
All this and more is implied in the concept
of the Vasus.
Rudras or “tragic storms” can likewise appear during a trip. There is often a
period of intense shake-up as the false underpinnings of one’s mental
orientation are swept away in a flood of new insights. Many times a psychedelic
journeyer will experience their whole body, their conceptions, their
relationships to people around them, or even the entire world dissolving into
nothingness. It can be a dreadfully terrifying deconstruction, but if done on
the platform of a stable mindset it allows the inner suns to shine more
brightly than ever. When much of what was previously imagined about reality turns
out to be false, its dissolution is a blessing in disguise. The worst pain
comes from trying to hold on to ideas that are being stripped of all sense. The
harder we try to cling to them, the more pain we cause ourselves. As the
Buddhists advise, just let the intense energy pass through you. If you don’t
resist you cannot get hurt.
the Rudra freak out of what may seem like a “bad trip” passes, which may be
long after the medicine itself wears off, those who have fully processed the
experience realize how valuable it was. Likewise, a chaotic, unpleasant
meditation is often far more constructive than a pleasant, untroubled one.
However, it is possible to defend oneself strongly enough to block the
processing of the causes of misery, which can lead to a persistent sense of
dread or anxiety. The cure is to gird one’s loins and wade back in, into the
very thing that you most want to avoid. If you don’t have the resolve in
advance to face these difficult Rudras, or what we now call traumas, it is better
to not put your foot in the water at all.
twin Asvins are offspring of the sun, and considered the physicians of the
gods. One is Satya, meaning truth, validity or actuality. On a good trip the
first profundity is a sense of absolute conviction. Doubt evanesces like fog
before a brilliant sunrise. Ordinary states of mind can be comparatively
trivial or at least partial and dubious, but the enlightened state is indelibly
real through and through. It is inexplicably self-ratifying. In it, the very aliveness
of reality is so uplifting and beautiful, that you cannot help laughing out loud
with relief and delight. Being restored to truth is possibly the most
rehabilitating balm there is. The truth attained during a profound experience
is not based on the recognition of specific things, which may be highly
embroidered during a trip, but emerges from an inner certitude grounded at a
deeper level than sense perceptions.
other Asvin is Dasra, which name means accomplishing wonderful deeds or giving
marvelous aid. Further into a trip saturated in truth, there is often a period
of insight about the meaning of one’s life, including impediments and unrealized
potentials. Many of the life-transforming effects of soma ingestion happen at
is little wonder that these two demigods are considered “Physicians,” since
they heal many deep-seated wounds of the psyche instantly and almost painlessly.
Knowing who you are and where you are going has to be the most important
insight anyone can have for finding their way through life. Without that
self-knowledge we may be drawn from illusion to illusion in a fruitless search,
made ever more desperate by a nagging suspicion that we are wasting our gifts.
Maruts are the shining ones, the divine sparks. After the instructive phase of
the trip, the yogi can see how every separate item of the universe glows with
its own inner radiance, its own inimitable value. The new awareness gained is
applied to each aspect of the environment in turn, and each becomes exalted,
transformed from darkness to light, from stagnation to vivacity. One of many possible
examples is the aforementioned heightened appreciation of ecology that has
emerged from psychedelic drug use. Ordinarily, humans don’t seem to have much
trouble taking the earth for granted and grinding it under their heels.
Twentieth century trippers were imbued with a visceral sense of the importance
and even sacredness of their environment, and an entire restorative movement
these marvels are “never seen before” because they spring from the unique mind
of each viewer. There are no Rudras and the other demigods anywhere in the
“real” world; they stand for aspects of consciousness. While what they
represent may occur in a generally similar way in most people, their precise
display will be tailored to each person’s individual makeup.
bliss of the Absolute has often been described as ever-new joy. It can never
become stale or redundant, because it is never the same. The pleasure of
repetitive familiarity via memory is of another order entirely. There are no
replays in real life, and even memories are different at each recall. As in
surfing, each wave breaks but once, and no matter how similar it is to past
waves, it must be ridden wholly in the present or the surfer will wipe out.
behold here in My body the whole world, including the static and the dynamic,
unitively established, and whatever else you desire to see.
is often thought of as a sudden transformative event that changes a seeker into
a seer in the twinkling of an eye. The literature is replete with entrancing
stories of instantaneous awakening. Vested interests claim that realization is
the dominion of the few, and you can only receive it from sources they endorse.
Yet to be alive and aware beyond our immediate self-interest is to be
enlightened to a degree. Enlightenment is something we all experience at times,
but since we’ve become overly focused on our inadequacies we rarely recognize
it. When we once again tune in to our native enlightenment it can strike us as
an unbelievably exciting event, but that’s primarily due to relief over the
sweeping away of our illusions. The light was always there for us to see by. As
the Gita says, this is easy. It’s so easy, you’re already there. You just don’t
realize it yet.
who takes a psychedelic medicine will of course undergo a very rapid change in
their mental state, but this is primarily due to the removal of inhibitions
guarding a something that is already present. Because the change comes from a
drug effect, it is more or less temporary. The medicine grants a preview of our
higher self, but as it wears off the curtain comes down once again. In order to
become firmly established in what we have glimpsed is the aim of a yogic
reorientation of mind, which is usually a much more gradual process.
static and the dynamic, sacaracaram,
is a good example of the paired compound extolled in X, 33 as an attribute of
the Absolute. It is formed of a word and its exact antonym, joined into a
single concept that is more profound than if both are considered separately.
Ordinarily we distinguish between animate and inanimate objects, but with the
eye of enlightened vision, such distinctions instantly vanish. Below the
surface, all things are seen to be almost unbearably alive. This is true
scientifically, as everything consists of the same cloud of atomic and
subatomic particles, and every atom is a dynamo filled with inexhaustible
energy. To the yogi or to one tripping on LSD, the absurd notion that anything
could be inanimate produces gales of laughter. They are witnessing everything
in intense living activity.
most commentators omit or downplay the word meaning “unitively established” in
this verse. An exception is Sri Aurobindo, who correctly grasps that this is
the most important point of all. He says, “This then is the keynote, the
central significance. It is the vision of the One in the Many, the Many in the
One—-and all are the One. It is this vision that to the eye of the divine Yoga
liberates, justifies, explains all that is and was and shall be.” Oneness has
to be understood as the hub upon which all else turns. Yoga, soma, or whatever
path taken, eventually brings the seeker to a profound realization, and the
essence of that realization is the unity of all things. As already noted, it is
not an intellectual appreciation, but a fully living, direct grokking of the
truth of unity, which to anyone who has spent years deluded by the idea that
they are separate and unconnected to the world is an overwhelming experience.
It comes in a rush, accompanied by a surge of loving feelings, bringing an
overpowering sense of relief from anxiety, soaring optimism, and many other
delights. The bliss of conversion of intellectual ideas into living truths is
important detail is that Krishna tells Arjuna he is free to behold whatever he
desires to see. In fact, we always see things colored by who we are, how we
think, and what we desire or are interested in. The Absolute alone is formless
and pure—-contentless in a way. Like a mirror, we see only ourselves in it when
we are fortunate enough to have a look. Because of this, Arjuna’s reaction to
his experience will display overtones of the battlefield, where he is still
standing and receiving instruction from his embodied guru. We must not forget
that this is Arjuna’s coloration of the Uncolored, and not some particular
attribute of the Absolute itself. The greatest folly that humans are prone to
is to project their own limitations or inclinations on God or Nature, thereby
magnifying them out of all proportion. That’s one reason humility is such an
important part of the training: it teaches us to subtract our projections from
our experience as a matter of course.
is actually a critical factor that should be anticipated by anyone embarking on
a vision quest of any type. Connecting with the Absolute engenders such bliss
that everything seen appears within a nimbus of blessed truth. The truth part
comes from our core of the Absolute, but the superimpositions we project upon
it are of our own making. Because of their grounding in bliss, our projections
can have such a ring of authenticity that we may be unable to shake our
convictions in even highly absurd notions that are associated with the
example, some who take psychedelic medicines permit all their values to be
stripped away. Because several false values are seen as utterly ridiculous,
values as a whole are intentionally discarded. This can lead to hurtful
behavior, including the commission of serious crimes. Selfishness and
criminality is latent in the unconscious of everyone, and it is very important
to retain our value assessments to prevent injury to others or even ourselves.
We have to learn how to let go of false values while retaining the beneficial
ones. Simply put, we must not throw the baby out with the bath water!
XII to XVIII are a textbook of how to sift out the truth from our projected and
often cherished falsehoods. It is a very difficult and complex process, and
outside assistance is crucial. While the Gita is an excellent aid, spending
time with a guru or therapist should be considered mandatory, lest the ego
corrupt the healing process into narcissism or a messianic complex.
if you are unable to see Me with this your (human) eye, I give you a divine
eye; behold My sovereign Yoga.
manifestation is the outward form of the Absolute, it usually mesmerizes the
observer so much that the underlying reality remains inaccessible. Krishna is
about to give Arjuna an extra boost so he can peek behind the curtain. Could
this be another sly reference to a divine potion with seemingly magical powers?
Or perhaps a special electrifying touch or secret meditation technique? We’ll never
know for sure. Whatever it is, Krishna is adding something to Arjuna’s solo
ability that pushes him over the top.
our imagination we can picture a gathering of seekers deep in an Indian jungle,
disciples of a wise elder who has spent the day brewing the soma beverage. As
night falls they gather around a fire. Having fasted all day, they eagerly
await the ritual passing of the cup that their guru humorously calls “a divine
eye.” Or perhaps it is just the two, Krishna and Arjuna. On a first trip, with
many unknowns, it is better to be sequestered far from outside interference.
The guru may have to ride the disciple like a wild bull for many hours, or it
may be a wholly silent and peaceful journey. Only time will tell.
yogic terms, there is a dialectic approach of guru and disciple during the long
course of instruction that culminates in the merger of their psyches. The two
become as one. In that union, wisdom is transferred to the next generation.
disciples have had the experience of their guru reading their mind as if it was
an open book. I know that for years I was afraid of my guru for this very
reason. He had provided a couple of discreet examples in case I needed them,
but it was something you could actually feel. Like many others, I felt
completely exposed, naked, in his presence. All the guilt-ridden parts of me
that I wanted to hide from view, even my own, would surge into my awareness. It
was embarrassing and confusing. So, while ardently desiring the total openness
of yoga, my ordinary “eye” was also trying very hard not to see. While this
became less and less of a blockage over the years, we never quite achieved a
completely unguarded state between us. With my earlier LSD trips, though, there
had been nothing but openness. There was no place to hide, no inside versus
outside. All such duality was perceived to be patently fictional. So despite my
defensive fears I knew I could trust my guru’s wise advice even when it didn’t
seem to accord with my own youthful folly. Thanks to those psychedelic visions
I was able to grant him the benefit of the doubt, which opened the door for
thus spoken then O King the great Master of Yoga showed Arjuna the supreme
narrator comes back into the tale three times in this chapter, in an attempt to
provide a neutral witness to the extraordinary events taking place. While this
section is fairly descriptive, the next two times he speaks Sanjaya has only a
single verse baldly delineating the action. He has been absent since the
introductory setting, where he had five speeches. After this he bows out until
the very end of the work, with one last speech bringing closure. Other than King
Dhritarashtra’s single verse to open the Gita, all else belongs to guru and
disciple, at a ratio of almost 7:1 in favor of the guru.
very handy to have a more or less dispassionate description from the narrator
in the midst of the Event of all events. Yet with the passage of time we can
see that Sanjaya is not perfectly unbiased: he still falls back on describing
the Absolute in quasi-religious terms. These are probably as neutral and
general as it was possible for him to be in his day, but the rishis were
striving to develop a new scientific language, and there was still room for
improvement. Yet if you stop and think about it, this is a darn good effort at
describing the Indescribable. The author of the Gita is fully aware of the
inherent limitations of any art, that they can only present a specific form of
the Formless. So we shouldn’t spend our whole life trying to do away completely
with how we look at things. Just enjoy it, as long as it’s reasonable.
we’re addressing the structure of the chapter, it’s worth noting that verses10,
13, 16 and 24 contain six words beginning aneka,
meaning many, manifold. They are indicative of Arjuna’s opening up process, his
expanding consciousness. Also drashtum
is repeated throughout the chapter, referring to what is seen. We’re talking
about a direct experience here, real seeing as opposed to imagining.
can only guess at what “showing” Sanjaya is describing here. The popular
imagination has it that Krishna just waves his hand and voila, the vision begins. Other stories in other traditions describe
a hit on the head or a laser beam from the eyes. Certainly Krishna has already
described the Absolute in detail for ten chapters, so it must be much more than
just another discourse. He is showing rather than telling.
of the nature of the vision, it seems highly likely there is some psychedelic
medicine being served. But no matter how the state is attained, there are
universal aspects in how the brain is affected by and interprets an experience
like this. However the initiation is viewed, it reveals a great deal about
everyone’s psychological makeup.
after the vision comes to an end, both Krishna and Arjuna will assert that it
was something never before seen by anyone else. What this implies is that it
was Arjuna’s own personal vision, and not some real, eternal entity being
accessed. Many seers have had profound visions throughout human history, but
they are all unique to the beholder. Like the universe itself, while the
underlying structure is fairly uniform, how it is expressed blossoms forth in
many faces and eyes, with many marvelous aspects, with many divine ornaments,
with many divine weapons held aloft,
have ever failed those who attempt to describe the Indescribable, even if they
are merely detached observers, if it is even possible to be detached at such a
critical moment. To an extent we have to read between the lines of what appears
to be a picture of a very odd-looking divine being in this and the next verse,
which form a single sentence. The deity in question bears a striking
resemblance to the god Vishnu, the sustainer of the universe. Krishna is
sometimes thought of as one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu spread over human
who has ever looked into the void has seen their own soul reflected. In other
words, the way their brain has been conditioned by its neural structuring,
which is a product of earlier input and development, colors and shapes whatever
is apprehended. While a modern Westerner is unlikely to hallucinate a Hindu
deity, an ancient Indian is equally unlikely to encounter Mickey Mouse. This
means that we should interpret the vision here as being appropriate to Arjuna’s
mindset, and not anything we should expect for ourselves. As each of us is
vastly unique, so each trip is original. Each sees from their own perspective.
Yet the core radiates the unity praised by all who pass the portals.
not too hard to conceive, it is nearly impossible to perceive the formless
unity beneath its variegated forms. Being necessarily limited, any specific
expression can only symbolize the whole, it can never be it. The next chapter
will address this paradox, and admit that for just plain easiness if nothing
else, a relationship to a familiar form is acceptable. Still, in this chapter,
when an unhinged Arjuna begs to see the unlimited Absolute reduced to his cherished
image of Vishnu, Krishna refuses to comply. This means we must never mistake
the form for the content, which is a major blunder. Even if we worship a form,
we should never forget that it merely represents the Formless, and so is not
the Only True Version of it.
been raised an agnostic, I myself have no favorite deity, and am stuck in
meditation with pure amorphous light, though I can see that a personal touch
would be most welcoming. Friendly even. Long ago I regretted not having a
divine being to relate to, but over time I learned to draw my inspiration from
beyond that kind of surface focus. Now it strikes me as arbitrary and even
silly, but I respect other people’s feelings about it, and hope they will
respect mine. Most people have an Absolute they pay homage to, whether a deity
or a scientific or political principle. Vishnu turns out to be Arjuna’s
favorite image, as we shall see. It’s good to know who or what image you are
beholden to, because it definitely can warp your perspective. That is precisely
why Krishna, standing for the Absolute, does not even acknowledge Arjuna’s
request for him to shrink himself down to the shape of the great god Vishnu.
and eyes represent perspectives, angles of vision. The initial disorientation
of a trip is often manifested by seeing things from many different points of
view, one after another. We are accustomed to our usual way of looking at
things, but suddenly we flash on to many new aspects. As soon as we perceive
one we are on to the next. This is a mind-blowing or better, mind-expanding
feature of the experience. We may never be able to cling to a single, narrow
way of looking at the world again.
travelers see hallucinatory faces, and especially eyes, everywhere they look,
but we have to assume these are a kind of eerie projection of consciousness.
They are like hidden picture puzzles: you look at an ordinary tree trunk, and
suddenly there is a leering face! Turn to a rock and there’s another! Any
reaction you have is quickly blown out of proportion. Projections like these
may be a source of some of the myths about the world being peopled with multitudes
of invisible beings, fairies, ryls, nooks, and so on. Obviously, projective
visions have little or no spiritual significance beyond bringing our inner
state of mind out in the open so we can become aware of it.
a heightened level of awareness it is also common to see spirals or concentric
circles everywhere. While often dismissed as phosphenes, artifacts of physical
eyesight, they have been widely worshipped across the Earth as the “eyes” of
gods or goddesses. They are like atomic structures or the conversion of energy
into matter made visible. When I have seen them, they were accompanied by the
conviction that each one was the center of the universe, demonstrating that the
universe has centers everywhere, wherever awareness is brought to bear.
course, the center is in the percipient rather than in what is being perceived.
We only imagine it is “out there” somewhere.
to the aspects and ornaments being revealed to Arjuna, these may be taken
either as specific to Vishnu or in a more general sense. It is very common in
psychedelic experiences to see gorgeous, jewel-like colors, and symbolic items
from the subconscious may be woven through the excursion in the way James Joyce
unobtrusively lodged a mundane artifact in each chapter of Ulysses. Regardless, every detail of a trip is a reflection of some
aspect of consciousness, personal or universal, and so it could be used as a
learning tool. Most often, though, the mind is so utterly inundated by the
sheer volume of material that it will have great difficulty in focusing on
distinct elements. Recording what is remembered soon after the trip comes to an
end can provide valuable material for future analysis.
weapons are those devices—-mainly rhetorical devices—-by which problems in life
are solved. For instance, a thunderbolt represents the intensification of
energy to break through an impasse. A knife dissects a situation so it can be
studied in detail, and it also separates the useful from the useless parts, in a
process known as discrimination. A sword represents the way the intellect can
cut through to the core of any issue. And so on. Further exegesis on weapons will
be sprinkled through later stages of the vision.
divine garlands and vestures, anointed with divine perfumes and unguents, a God
representing sheer marvel, without end, universally facing.
narrator Sanjaya adds a few more descriptive touches of a typical deity in the
form of Krishna/Vishnu. We have already discussed the garland in VII, 7. It
stands for the interconnectedness of all things, and a whole that is greater
than the sum of its parts. The image is of the many individual flowers of
life-expression being linked by an invisible thread that gives them added
significance. Their coherence with each other provides additional layers of utility
and beauty. It is a very common experience with psychedelics to see how
everything stands in relationship to everything else, almost as if the hidden
thread knitting them together has become visible.
have treated their world as being made up of separate, unrelated elements in
order to dominate and abuse it without a second thought. The spiritual vision
imparted by contemplative disciplines as well as psychedelics makes it very
difficult to maintain the illusion. The environmental movement, for example, is
grounded in the awareness of humanity’s mutual interdependence with the natural
world, in the knowledge that things matter.
If something impacts you, it is important. Events that occur in isolation have
essentially no meaning beyond themselves; in reality there is no such thing as
isolation, except in make-believe. That kind of willful ignorance has wrought
tremendous damage nearly everywhere on the Earth, not to mention in people’s
type of garland, psychological rather than objective, is described by Rene
Daumal in a letter to his wife, reprinted in the postscript to his miniature
gem, Mount Analogue:
I am dead because I
I lack desire because
I think I
I think I possess because
I do not
try to give;
In trying to give,
you see that you
Seeing you have nothing,
you try to
give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself,
that you are nothing;
Seeing you are nothing,
In desiring to become,
you begin to
The mindset of a yogi contains a predisposition
to look for
connectedness everywhere, particularly where it is not obvious.
or clothes symbolize the forms draped about the Formless. The “sheer marvel” of
it is well known to all who experience some sort of divine connectedness, where
every detail is more amazing than the last. The visual extravagance can be
all the visual and sensual activity, if you can resist being distracted by it,
is an atmosphere of supernal feeling, of peace and love and light. It has been
described as “Divinity everywhere, with no god anywhere.” Whether the
experience is a mere intimation of realization or a genuine connection with the
underlying reality must be left to the judgment of the one having the
experience. At its best it bears the ring of authenticity, ratifying itself and
eradicating all doubts about its validity. Such a genuine experience beyond the
boundaries of familiar terrain is impossible to adequately express in words, even
as its outward symptoms can be unsettling to casual onlookers. Beneath the verbal
incoherence is a transcendent and highly educational coherence. Bystanders or
guides should remain open to it, following Jesus’ excellent advice to “judge
not, that ye be not judged.” (Matt. 7.1)
mystical term “universally facing” makes its second appearance, after X, 33. We
are reminded that this vision cannot be comprehended from any specialized or
limited perspective; it must be taken as a whole or it can’t be what it is.
coincidentally, reports of psychedelic experiences frequently mention the
instantaneous dissolution of dualistic concepts like outside and inside. Space
explorers know there is no such thing as up or down in outer space. Dualistic
concepts are all relative, not absolute.
the splendor of a thousand suns were to rise together in the sky, that might
resemble the splendor of that great Soul.
of the Gita’s most famous verses provides the perfect analogy for the dawning
of spiritual illumination. An unbearably brilliant white light that permeates
everything is a commonly reported experience in realization. If one sun is too
bright to look upon, think of what a thousand would be like. For starters it
would light up every dark recess of the inside of your head.
and other rishis used the word ‘thousand’ in the same way we use ‘zillion’, to
mean innumerable. Let’s face it, a thousand of anything might as well be an
infinite amount. You are way past the point of wanting to count them as
seems that we are made of light, which is the same as consciousness, which is
what we feel as love. When we rediscover our true self, whose nature is that
loving light, it brings an upsurging emotion that feels like a return to our
true home. Since we tend to feel like we could never find our way back to where
we belong on our own, the return is often accompanied by a boundless sense of
gratitude toward whatever enables it, which we will presently see drenching
Arjuna in respect to Krishna.
distinctions of color and form disappear in the presence of intense white
light. This is true in all our senses, not just the visual. We temporarily are
excused from making any differentiations when the thousand suns rise within our
consciousness requires an admixture of light and darkness to function. In both
utter darkness and pure light, nothing is visible. Only when darkness and light
are blended together in the proper measure is the visible spectrum perceptible.
But as darkness is simply the absence of light, light is the source of the
whole game. It is spectacularly restorative to our being to reconnect with its
source for a period of time, especially if our heart has forgotten what it is.
This parallels the image of Vishnu as the light of truth and justice
reincarnating whenever darkness threatens to gain the upper hand, discussed
back in IV, 7 and 8.
especially are very fond of the analogy between the rising sun and the dawning
of realization. Narayana Guru offers his own version in verse 35 of his Hundred
Verses of Self-Instruction (Atmopadesa
ten thousand suns coming all at once,
modulation of discrimination arises;
veil of transience covering knowledge is maya;
this away, the primal sun alone shines.
Note that the Guru uses ‘discrimination’
in its traditional
sense, as differentiating between the transient and the eternal. This is not
the same as my use in verse 10, which refers to discrimination within the
Arjuna then beheld the whole world, divided into many kinds, unitively
established in the body of the God of gods.
notion of the Absolute is monotheism at its best, or better yet monism, having
nothing left over or omitted. While Hinduism may look pantheistic from a
distance, all the gods represent aspects and powers of creation within the
total oneness of the Absolute, brahman. The non-religious philosophy of the
Gita and the Upanishads is clearly enunciated here, and will be further
clarified in Chapter XV. All the gods, elements, individuals—-all of
everything—-are nothing more than moving aspects comprising the body of the one
claiming to be monotheistic but who grants a big chunk of the business of
running the universe to Satan or Iblis, or else sequesters God away from the
world, giving it a separate status, is in actuality dualistic or polytheistic.
Monotheism means that everything can be traced back to one Source. Its primary
implication is that since we are all the same in essence, hostility is
counterproductive. When you hate the ‘other’ you are hating yourself, and denigrating
the creative principle as well.
at its best is thus monotheistic, striving to reduce the universe to a single
principle or unitive original event. Its variance with religion is mainly in
the name of the unity scientists prefer, Nature instead of God, and the amount
of intentionality accorded to its absolute principle. In addition, a scientist
is supposed to be fearless enough to peek under God’s skirts to see what It
looks like. Religions tend to counsel unquestioning belief and acceptance,
rather than exploration and incisive thought. It should be clear by now that
the Gita is much more in the camp of the scientist than the religious believer.
Gregory Bateson, pondering upgrading religion to a more scientific perspective,
offers some salient advice along these lines in his book Angels
Two things, however,
about any religion that might derive from cybernetics and systems theory,
ecology and natural history. First, that in the asking of questions, there will
be no limit to our hubris; and second, that there shall always be humility in
our acceptance of answers. In these two characteristics we shall be in sharp
contrast with most of the religions of the world. They show little humility in
their espousal of answers but great fear about the questions they will ask.
If we can
show that a recognition of a certain unity in the
total fabric is a recurrent characteristic, it is possible that some of the
most disparate epistemologies that human culture has generated may give clues
as to how we should proceed. (136)
This is perfectly in keeping with the philosophy
of Yoga and
the guru-disciple tradition, which encourages penetrating questioning and
counsels humility in respect of conclusions, which are to be regarded as steps
in an unfolding process rather than a finalized posture.
psychedelic trip or deep meditation must arrive at unity to be complete. Very often
there are partial visions which can seem awesome enough to cause a seeker to
rest on their laurels. This is actually a great misfortune, because it brings
the quest for truth to a (hopefully temporary) close. We don’t hear scientists
bragging that since they have unified some
aspects of the universe they can stop where they are.
But religious seekers
can be much more timidly complacent, and may be content with a mere
intellectual appreciation of their favorite scripture or the carrying out of
some rote activity. What’s more, when a seeker quits, satisfied with a partial
vision, that single aspect will be magnified out of all proportion, leading to any
number of unpleasant consequences, including but not limited to intolerant
fundamentalism, psychosis, criminality, or negative withdrawal from life.
Having an experienced guide helps prevent a seeker from abandoning the raft in
midstream, so to speak, instead holding up a vision of the distant shore that
is to be reached.
often than not it will take several good trips to arrive at the liberated state
psychedelic medicines can potentially reveal. Therapists who have used them for
their patients realize that a single trip may jar loose psychoses but not fully
resolve them. This can produce fear of going any further, and result in
abandoning the quest prematurely. The patient can be left with a lifetime of
lingering anxiety or worse. It is critical to revisit the problem and not try
to ignore it, so that resolution can be achieved.
concept is applicable to any traumatic event. If a child inhales some water
while swimming, say, or falls off a horse, they will rapidly develop an
aversion to the activity unless they are led back to it as soon as possible.
The sense of joy in doing the sport correctly banishes the fear that the
accident generated. Without that kind of direct “therapy” the mind is likely to
weave a protective phobia around the cause of the trauma.
is very possible that the historical Arjuna—if there was one—underwent a substantial
series of trips, but for economy Vyasa has compressed his experience into a
single description. In any case he arrives at a complete infusion of unity
here, which even with his excellent preparation may have taken him awhile to
accomplish. The reverence and gratitude he will evidence hereafter
spontaneously burst forth in response to this marvelous accomplishment.
Arjuna, struck with amazement, with his hair standing on end, reverently bowing
his head to the God, and with joined palms, spoke.
we shed our outmoded snakeskin of conditioning, the intensity of what we
experience can be overwhelming. All our familiar markers lose their ability to
anchor us. We are forced to abandon the presumption of control so thoroughly
and abruptly it may feel like we’re dying. Happily, we later resurface,
“reborn” with a fresh vision of our life’s calling, our dharma. In concert with
the renewed sense of purpose, a natural inner reverence arises as if it had
always been present in our heart. It is such a relief to know why we’re alive,
and that it’s not an accident of cold fate. While usually temporary, the gratitude
of a brimming heart is the only emotion that can bear the intensity of the
reconnection with the Absolute.
has asked Arjuna to bow down to him on all levels (IX, 34), spiritual,
intellectual, emotional and physical, and now he knows in every cell what that
means. “Bow down” does not imply groveling, but rather opening up to the
additional factor of the Absolute, the whole Arjuna now knows he is a part of. The
impact of his experience extends from the most sublime heights to the material
actuality of being in a body.
image here is wonderfully evocative of someone in a state of ecstasy. In
reality, samadhi, union with the Absolute, tends to have little if any physical
component. The mind is the sole playing field for the sportive delight of
amusing side note is Arjuna’s horripilation, his hair standing on end. He first
manifested this symptom back in I, 29, where it was caused by his stupefying
confusion tinged with fear. Here it is an outcome of his ecstasy and relief.
Vyasa, the master composer of the Gita, has even counterbalanced this minor
detail, using it to symbolize the two poles of Arjuna’s conflict.
this almost theatrically visual introduction, verses 15-50 are all in the
ecstatic, extended meter, which is nearly 2/3 of their total in the entire
work. This structural feature itself indicates we have arrived at the peak of
the Gita’s song.
see the gods, O God, in Your body, and all specific groups of beings, Brahma,
the Lord, established on his lotus seat, and all seers and divine serpents.
off the bat, Arjuna reiterates the most important realization of all: that
every category of created things is subsumed in an all-inclusive unity. Knowing
this makes the difference between a life of grim divisiveness posited on
survival of the fittest and one of surpassing happiness based on mutual
often a psychedelic trip begins with a nearly instantaneous realization of the
falsity of the apparent separation of parts and the reality of the unitive
substratum. People “getting off” on soma frequently burst out laughing at how
obvious it is that we are one. Pretension based on isolationist fantasies is
stripped away in a heartbeat. It is as if we knew it all along, but were
temporarily distracted from remembering by the mesmerizing chaos of everyday
life. Now we’re back. The Absolute is truly nearer than the near as well as
farther than the far. It is close to our core but far from our cortex.
goes without saying that any vision of the unitive state is beyond the reach of
words. Nonetheless, as verbal beings we are bound to try, and Chapter XI offers
a very fine poetic description, highly open-ended. Author Vyasa might have skipped
it if he could, but some kind of direct connection with the goal has to be
included for the sake of completeness, in any endeavor. So don’t spend too much
time reading about it—-go and have your own adventure. Your vision will be
tailored to your understanding, just as Arjuna’s is tailored to his. Literally
tailored: the vision is fashioned from the whole cloth of each person’s own
mindset includes his Vedic religious background along with the more ancient
Dravidian context of pre-Aryan India. The former includes the panoply of the
gods, while the latter is represented by the nagas, the divine serpents, both mentioned here. A unitive vision
even ameliorates intractable religious differences, which are seen to be
nothing more than different descriptions of the same thing. For truth to be
true, it has to be all-inclusive. If my truth differs from your truth, at least
one of them and probably both must not be true at all.
lotus has been discussed in V, 10. It can rest in mud and remain immaculate, so
it symbolizes the interface between the manifest and the unmanifest. If the
unmanifest is going to “sit” atop the manifest, the lotus is precisely the kind
of seat it will need to prevent it from slipping into manifestation itself.
Moreover, the “thousand petaled lotus of light” is the highest or final chakra
at the top of the head. Arjuna is now seeing “outside” that aperture from his
perspective, meaning that his kundalini energy has risen all the way up the
spine to liberate his consciousness. Kundalini yoga is not specifically
mentioned in the Gita, but is possibly implied here. The chakras and their
relation to consciousness were discussed in VII, 4-10.
imagery of this section rapidly becomes extremely lurid, reflecting Arjuna’s
excitement as the heavens open up for him. One of the best visual
representations of what he’s “seeing” is the cover for the 1967 album Axis Bold
As Love, by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, featuring Jimi as Vishnu. Ask your
hippie friends if any of them have a copy stashed away. Freakadelic!
see You on every side, of boundless form, with multitudinous arms, stomachs,
faces and eyes; neither Your end nor Your middle nor Your beginning do I see, O
Lord of the Universe, O Universal Form!
essence of time is pure duration: things persist because they are spread out in
time. We measure and break up time into segments, but these are only convenient
superimpositions on top of the eternal quality of duration. Now Arjuna is
experiencing the essential nature of time, free of all arbitrary conditions
such as past, present and future. It is actually a liberating feeling, to be
unaffected by minutes and seconds, what we call time pressures. This is the
“eternity in an hour” of William Blake.
Jill Bolte Taylor, sketches the outlines of these two aspects of time as
understood by modern science in her fascinating book, My
Stroke of Insight (New York: Viking, 2006):
To the right
mind, no time exists other than the present
moment, and each moment is vibrant with sensation. Life or death occurs in the
present moment. The experience of joy happens in the present moment. Our
perception and experience of connection with something that is greater than
ourselves occurs in the present moment. To our right mind, the moment of now is timeless and abundant….
moment is a time when everything and everyone
are connected together as one. As a
result, our right mind perceives each of us as equal members of the human
family. It identifies our similarities and recognizes our relationship with
this marvelous planet, which sustains our life. It perceives the big pictures,
how everything is related, and how we all join together to make up the whole.
Our ability to be empathic, to walk in the shoes of another and feel their
feelings, is a product of our right frontal cortex.
our left hemisphere is completely different in
the way it processes information. It takes each of those rich and complex
moments created by the right hemisphere and strings them together in timely
succession. It then sequentially compares the details making up this moment
with the details making up the last moment. By organizing details in a linear
and methodical configuration, our left brain manifests the concept of time
whereby our moments are divided into the past, present, and future. (30-31)
It may be that psychedelics inhibit left brain
thus allowing the right brain, with its focus on the present, to take center
stage. I can attest that a short song off the White Album can last for an
eternity, and a single day’s trip can take an age. Probably the time sense is
retroactively imposed during the recovery period, as it is absent at the peak
of a trip.
the trigger that has set it off, Arjuna’s experience is at least eerily similar
to a psychedelic trip. While many conditions may stimulate the experience of
what we often call the divine—and in the Gita the perfect bipolarity of guru
and disciple is unquestionably the highest recommendation—several types of
medicine can make the experience available to a broad spectrum of seekers.
While there are innumerable descriptions in the psychedelic literature that
closely parallel the Gita’s poetry, the following from leading mushroom
investigator Gordon Wasson permits us a lot of insight into Arjuna’s state of
mind. Wasson was very likely the first outsider to participate in the sacred
ritual of mushroom ingestion with the Indians of Central America, in the early
the mushroom is that it puts many, if not everyone, within reach of this state
without having to suffer the mortifications of [some saints]. It permits you to
see, more clearly than our perishing mortal eye can see, vistas beyond the
horizons of this life, to travel backwards and forwards in time, to enter other
planes of existence, even (as the Indians say) to know God. It is hardly
surprising that your emotions are profoundly affected, and you feel that an
indissoluble bond unites you with the others who have shared with you in the
sacred agape. All that you see during this night has a pristine quality: the
landscape, the edifices, the carvings, the animals—-they look as though they
had come straight from the Maker’s workshop. This newness of everything—-it is
as though the world has just dawned—-overwhelms you and melts you with its
beauty. Not unnaturally, what is happening to you seems to you freighted with
significance, beside which the humdrum events of everyday life are trivial. All
these things you see with an immediacy of vision that leads you to say to
yourself, “Now I am seeing for the first time, seeing direct, without the
intervention of mortal eyes.”
—The Road to Eleusis, R. Gordon Wasson,
et al, (New York: Harvest/HBJ, 1978) p.19.
We can notice Wasson’s heavy emphasis
on seeing, which
echoes Arjuna’s highly visual descriptions. Extremely colorful and entrancing
scenes are common to both psychedelic experiences and religious scriptures.
all the unhappy consequences of social conditioning and its fear of living reality,
the proscription against religious experience via mushroom medicines is among
the most debilitating for a civilization sorely in need of awakening from its stupefied
behold You with diadem, mace and discus, glowing everywhere as a mass
of light, hard to look at, everywhere blazing like fire and sun, immeasurable.
Sanjaya and Arjuna conceive of the Absolute as Vishnu, in conventional Vedic
guise, although Arjuna is about to go far, far beyond his religious
conditioning. Later in verses 45 and 46, he will beg to have his religious
sentiments restored. Krishna pointedly ignores his request, and instead resumes
his form as an “ordinary” friend and guru. This is a clear indication that extravagant
religious images are mere window dressing, and at best are intermediate to a
total grounding in the Absolute. Spiritual seekers should take them less,
rather than more, seriously.
the mythological context, Krishna is an aspect of Vishnu, whose diadem and mace
are his royal crown and scepter. Vishnu’s discus is called Sudarshana, meaning
beautiful vision. Since a discus is a divine weapon, it means that the impetus
of a beautiful vision may be directed at obstacles to clear the path to
enlightenment. In other words, instead of combating problems and fighting
through them, conjunction with the Absolute peacefully guides one’s footsteps.
Or as noted early on, the vision of the One Beyond dispels the last vestiges of
attachment to the ordinary (II, 59). The power of the discus calls to mind Joan
of Arc, so mesmerized by her vision of God that as a teenager she was a major
figure in resolving an international political stalemate. Nonviolent resistance
is another example, which invokes high ideals to win victories that would
likely be impossible through actual combat.
of us have known kind and gentle people who don’t seem to even notice
obstacles. They pass through them as if they aren’t there. Then there are those
who are looking for trouble and are bound to find it. Their pugnaciousness and
suspicion bring them no end of grief, which they use to reinforce their
negative framing of reality. One of the most valuable bits of training a guru
can impart is to realign the psyche to see the world as beautiful instead of
hostile, because it makes life simultaneously more enjoyable and less
revolutionary enterprises begin with a beautiful vision, but as they meet
resistance from the established paradigm they usually begin to make compromises
to meet the resistance on its own terms. Before long, what began as a fresh
endeavor is converted into a retread of the status quo. Vishnu is the
Sustainer, so the beautiful vision he represents cannot be watered down. This
means we have to make sure we do not lose contact with the inner truth that
inspires our path. There is no better example of this than Gandhi, who
stubbornly held to his nonviolent approach even as many around him urged the
the influence of psychedelics, if one is in a stable state of mind it is very
easy to resist provocations. The bliss of immersion is so intense that it annuls
any irritation. Unfortunately, as the medicine wears off it leaves you in a
more susceptible state for a period, as will be discussed in verse 31.
is a linear sequence to Arjuna’s “trip” that can only be observed when the
verses are read carefully all together. It begins in a way that he can at least
attempt to describe in familiar terms. As it intensifies, it moves rapidly to a
vast, all-encompassing experience that erases the ordinary conceptualizations which
had previously served him adequately. Shortly he will be flooded with
emotionally tinged wonderment. Time will expand to include the end of all the
living beings surrounding him on the battlefield. At the peak, he attains to an
agonia, the agony of divine
transformation. Afterwards, he is filled with remorse for his former spiritual
blindness, and resolves from the bottom of his heart to make his newfound
realization a living part of his life.
course we don’t have to relate this to a psychedelic experience, but a
“breakthrough” LSD trip quite frequently follows the same general outlines.
are the Imperishable, the Supreme that is to be known; You are the ultimate
Basis of this universe; You are the unexpended and everlasting Custodian of
(natural) law; You are the immemorial Person, I believe.
is the “splendor of a thousand suns” rising in the firmament that Sanjaya more dispassionately
described earlier. An explosively happy state floods one’s being immediately
after the darkness of separation is dispelled. Swept up in it one knows the
light as an unbearably wonderful essence of everything. The heart blazes in
response, pouring forth love and gratitude for the simple awareness of one’s
existence. The types of thoughts that Arjuna expresses now are typical of a
diligent seeker from whom the veil has finally fallen. Krishna has covered all
these ideas in detail already, but now Arjuna is feeling the truth of them in
the depths of his soul.
don’t realize how the illusion of death hangs over us like a dark cloud until
we come face to face with eternity, and then in an instant the pall is lifted.
We perceive the illusion only by its absence. Then, knowing that something is imperishable, and realizing
that we are wholly permeated with that substance, fear is erased. Arjuna will
be cosmically terrified later in his trip as he blasts through unfamiliar
territory and into what is glibly called the Void, but ever after he will be
immunized from the ordinary fears that plague most of humanity most of the
certitude that “This is what is to be known!” is a primary aha moment. A seeker
goes through life wondering about many things. Questions and unsolved riddles
propel the search. You are searching for the Unknown. And then one day, like
diving into a pristine mountain pool, you arrive, and can finally feel what has
been drawing you all along. The Unknown has become known. Flushed with relief,
you think, “Oh, This is what everybody has been talking about!” “This is what
religions are carrying on about!” “This is what I’ve been looking for all my
life!” Thoughts like that. And then to know in your bones that this is who you
and everyone else are in essence is a
soaring realization. You haven’t just been searching for a needle in a
haystack, some distant and recondite fact, but for something that is everywhere
and every when, immanent and broadly accessible across the whole span of
existence. How can it have been so easy to overlook?
the grip of realization, it becomes clear to you that there is no “guy”
somewhere pulling the strings of a puppet universe, but that coherent laws
permeate the cosmos throughout its entire expanse. How else could it possibly
work, vast as it is? But this does not rule out a principle of enlightenment or
evolution, which imbues the whole with meaning. The incremental movement from
darkness to light, untruth to truth, and death to immortality makes every step
significant. It is as Henri Bergson quipped, with tongue slightly in cheek
about the machine part, that “The universe is a machine for making gods.” And every
so often the gradual everyday progress attains a new order of magnitude via a
quantum leap like the one Arjuna is now having.
of quantum leaps, Arjuna’s affirmation that these are his beliefs tells us that he is no longer just a student. He is in
the process of being reborn as a fully sentient adult human, who now has
firsthand knowledge to augment the very extensive, but inevitably theoretical, instruction
Krishna has been giving him. At last he really knows what he knows. He still has plenty to learn from his mentor,
but he can now be released on his own recognizance, so to speak. This is the
minimum requirement of a “good citizen” that ordinary education promises but
usually fails to deliver, and it additionally imparts a bedrock sense of
confidence that will sustain Arjuna for the rest of his life.
the most famous scientific study of the mystical impact of psychedelics is the
Good Friday Experiment of 1962, where ten Protestant divinity students were
administered psilocybin mushroom extract and ten a placebo before attending
Good Friday services. All were of the male persuasion. While the initial
findings were dramatic enough, a follow-up study was conducted twenty-five
years later. Rick Doblin wrote a lengthy analysis that was published in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology in
1991, (Vol. 23, No.1). He reported in part:
Each of the psilocybin subjects felt that
experience had significantly affected his life in a positive way and expressed
appreciation for having participated in the experiment. Most of the effects
discussed in the long-term follow-up interviews centered around enhanced
appreciation of life and of nature, deepened sense of joy, deepened commitment
to the Christian ministry or to whatever other vocations the subjects chose,
enhanced appreciation of unusual experiences and emotions, increased tolerance
of other religious systems, deepened equanimity in the face of difficult life crises,
and greater solidarity and identification with foreign peoples, minorities,
women and nature. Subject K.B.'s description of the long-term effects is
representative. He remarks:
It left me with a completely unquestioned certainty that there is an
environment bigger than the one I'm conscious of. I have my own interpretation
of what that is, but it went from a theoretical proposition to an experiential
one. In one sense it didn't change anything, I didn't discover something I
hadn't dreamed of, but what I had thought on the basis of reading and teaching
was there. I knew it. Somehow it was much more real to me.... I expect things
from meditation and prayer and so forth that I might have been a bit more
skeptical about before.... I have gotten help with problems, and at times I
think direction and guidance in problem solving. Somehow my life has been
different knowing that there is something out there.... What I saw wasn't
anything entirely surprising and yet there was a powerful impact from having seen
K.B.’s assessment is close to what we
can imagine Arjuna’s
take to have been, twenty-five years after his vision of the Absolute….
meaning of terms like “Immemorial Person” in the Gita is, to put it bluntly,
“God.” The fact that the universe embodies a principle to coax us on to ever
more complex states of awareness and ability implies a kind of benevolence that
seems almost human, and so, with our anthropomorphic tendencies, godly. There
is a mysterious interface between personal and impersonal factors that will be
extensively explored in chapters XII and XV especially. Arjuna’s—-and indeed
most people’s—-preference is for the personable. While one must guard against
the tendency to project one’s personal desires and fantasies onto the Absolute,
it can be very consoling to treat it as a friend and helpmate. In truth, all
honest attitudes are legitimate, and the positing of an external factor is one
way of avoiding the “I’m hipper than thou” kind of spiritual conceit. After
all, our relative merits, no matter how amazing, are quite trivial in
comparison with the Absolute. The Gita will carefully instruct the seeker how
to avoid the pitfalls of anthropomorphism in this important matter as we go
along, while at the same time endorsing its efficacy.
employing ‘immemorial’, Nataraja Guru renders sanatanah a little differently than others, who use immortal,
deathless, undying, and so on. The verse has already featured aksara, from the title of Chapter VIII,
which means imperishable, so the latter translations are basically repetitive.
With his version, the Guru brings in the sense of endless time, which is
definitely an implication of the Sanskrit word and is in keeping with the
thread in the next verse as well.
see You without beginning, middle or end, of never ending force, of numberless
arms, having moon and sun for eyes, Your face like a lit fire of sacrifice
burning this universe with Your own radiance.
the Absolute is recognized as transcending time, and in the next verse, space. Verse
19 should be compared with verse 32, where Krishna categorically states “I am
time.” Absolute time, as we have noted, is pure duration, and its beginnings,
middles and ends are a continuous transient play on its surface.
forces and arms represent the laws of nature, the mind-bogglingly complex
extensions of the first principle or “Big Bang” of the universe into every
aspect of existence. Whereas in ordinary consciousness we might examine one “arm”
at a time, Arjuna now views them metaphorically all at once, and the vision
overwhelms him. There are far more of them than he ever believed possible. This
is the kind of humbling vision that eradicates the common fault of imagining
you already know everything. Humans are just beginning to wake up, and we are
by no means privy to all the secrets of the universe quite yet.
first line of the Mundaka Upanishad, II,1.4 is “Fire is his head; His eyes, the
moon and sun.” It’s not necessarily that Arjuna is waxing rhapsodic and quoting
the Upanishads, but he is seeing what the rishis of the Upanishads also saw.
Moon and sun respectively symbolize consciousness and the radiant spirit which
illuminates it. The third light, the sacrificial fire, is that which consumes
everything, breaking down complex constructs into their component chemicals so
that new entities can be formed. It is this last feature that will begin to
unnerve Arjuna as his trip continues to unfold. His habitual mental constructs
will be broken down into a more generalized, potential state, so that later on
they can be rebuilt into more intelligent constructs.
quickly through this chapter makes it seem that all Arjuna’s complicated
visions are crammed together in close proximity, but we have to assume there is
a significant span of time involved, at least for an outside observer if not
for him. As anyone who has journeyed on psychedelic medicines knows, time—when
it is even perceived—expands exponentially. Arjuna’s splendorous vision
epitomized in the previous verse would have seemed endless to him, a truly
eternal moment. He is still at the peak, but in citing the fire that burns the
universe Vyasa has artfully sown a seed of “coming down” here, which will begin
to sprout in the next verse.
space between heaven, earth, and the intermediate realm is pervaded by You
alone, as also the quarters; having seen this wonderful, terrible form of
Yours, the three worlds are in distress, O Great Self.
handy way to conceptualize the universe is that it is the mind turned inside
out. Or that the mind is the universe turned outside in. When we think we gaze
out upon limitless vistas of time and space, what we’re really experiencing are
passion plays staged in recondite corners of our own brain. Moreover we have
become like overbearing directors who want the play to be performed just the
way we have learned to want it, and in so doing bully the actors so they lose
their spontaneity. The illusions of control inhibits the natural upwelling of
our dharma, our innate inclinations, and in the process sabotages our vitality.
observing the brain via fMRI can see that thought impulses occur for up to ten
seconds before we become aware of them, meaning our consciousness is like a
tail firmly convinced it is wagging the dog. A powerful vision like Arjuna is
having quells the ego’s fantasy of being in charge, at least temporarily, so
the inner flow of evolutionary development can rush ahead unchecked. With luck
and a stretch of hard work, the visionary territory gained from being a neutral
witness of our deeper self can be annexed permanently. Most commonly, the ego
will regain its dominance after the medicine wears off. Hopefully it will be
chastened, and assume its rightful place as a single part of a very complex
process. Otherwise, if it tries to resume its dominance, the power struggle can
be very dangerous, leading to derangement and megalomania. I refer to this as
the Al Haig syndrome, after the mid-level cabinet member under US President
Ronald Reagan who famously said “I’m in control here” after Reagan was shot,
even though he was in no better than fourth place in the Constitutional line of
succession. The ego is a crucial servant but a hazardous master.
and other psychoactive medicines probably suppress some of the left brain
inhibitory functions so that we can explore areas of the brain that are
normally off limits, like the deep regions where our thoughts actually
originate. Unlike alcohol, which stupefies all
the brain, these medicines apparently have little or no effect on the right
brain, with its more unitive orientation. Below both the right and left brain
is the brain stem, with its essential life-maintenance role, which is also
the ego’s vantage point, the deeper regions of the brain where our thoughts and
motivations arise are Unknown Territory. All that modern cosmonauts need to
explore their inner universe is a little dedication and a “ticket to ride.” The
expensive equipment, teams of experts, tracking stations and toxic rocket fuel
used by physical space travelers to plumb the weary and boring vacuum of outer
space are completely unnecessary.
we have different names for the “three worlds” of heaven, earth, and the
intermediate realm: we call these the macrocosm, the microcosm, and the
everyday or transactional world. All are endlessly complex and fascinating, and
filled with potential for amazing discoveries. Note that the Absolute is not
equated with space as such here, but with the space between those realms. Modern instruments have allowed us to
determine that “empty space” is actually surprisingly full, containing whirling
atoms and complex organic molecules, photons, dark matter, plasma, and who
knows what else. What is meant by ‘in between’ is the true emptiness compared
to which even space is a form of manifestation.
is an inside joke shared by both science and religion. When the scientist looks
within a physical object, its molecules consist of mostly emptiness with some
atoms scattered through it. Atoms themselves are mostly emptiness with a few
tiny particles scattered around, and those particles in turn are mostly
emptiness buoyed up by really tiny subatomic particles. These in turn… well,
you get the idea. Religion looks with the mind’s eye instead of the microscope,
but the conclusion is the same: this universe consists solely of appearances
artfully formed from pure nothingness. The joke is that the nothingness somehow
appears to be everything. No one really knows why there seems to be something rather than nothing, but everyone
agrees that is the case.
three realms are not actually in distress, either, any more than usual. The
Absolute contains all things, not just their good half. It is Arjuna, just beginning
to freak out about what all this means, who is in distress. He is still near
the apogee of his trip, but all is not merely sweetness and light. The world
that once seemed so constant and fixed is now comprehended to be in continuous
tumultuous transformation. One of the mind’s primary functions is to provide us
with an illusion of stability within the utter chaos of a mindbendingly dynamic
universe, where we can never step into the same river twice. We incubate as
long as necessary in a calm and sequestered environment, like a chick in its
sturdy eggshell. But at some point we have to break out and learn to fly. The
transition is not always comfortable or effortless. Part of us longs for the
familiar womblike darkness, even as we stand on the brink of emergence into the
You enter those hosts of the Suras, some in fear of You mutter with joined
palms, bands of great rishis and Perfected Ones hail You with the cry “May it
be well!” and praise You with resounding hymns.
the initial rush of cosmic relief at discovering what he had been searching for
his whole life, afterwards tempered with a whiff of sacrificial fire, Arjuna
rises to yet another pinnacle. He has broken through his individual isolation
to find himself metaphorically in the company of the realized beings of all
ages. This is a particularly wonderful stage of a trip. Having tasted the manna
of celestial bliss, you know in your heart that it is the same as all
enlightened beings have known and been praising, in divergent and creatively
artistic fashion, down through the millennia. You have arrived, and
coincidentally discovered the purpose and meaning of your life. No joy could be
well remember having my breakthrough on LSD, floating in space supported on
pillows of light, which was supremely loving and all-pervasive. The actual
world appeared as a filmy veil of insubstantial nothingness barely shimmering
atop the glow. As a lifelong atheist, the realization hit me particularly hard
that this was what the ancient seers
were describing in all the spiritual texts. I was in the place they had all struggled
to describe. Right then and there—-wherever that was—-I took a vow to learn how
to attain that wondrous state permanently, without the use of drugs, if for no
other reason than they wore off. And the world being the fateful psychodrama it
is, before the year was out I “accidentally” found myself at the feet of a true
guru, one who was an expert lecturer on the Bhagavad Gita and strongly
anti-drug to boot. Anything of value in this commentary can be traced directly to
his influence and instruction, by the way, which in turn were a legacy of his
own brilliant guru.
conditions of intense emotion, humans often take recourse in prayer, which is a
natural way to access their inner strength. Awe can easily turn into fear, when
the unknown is immanent. Under stress the ego may become unmoored like a
feather in a windstorm, rendering it unable to mount any complex
conceptualizations. Ordinary thoughts are impossible, and in any case are inadequate
for regaining stability. For the one of unexamined life, all sorts of deals,
contracts and pleas may find utterance to try to restore calm: “Dear God,
please give me what I think I want, and I promise to _____.” But for those who
have meditated deeply on the meaning of existence, there can only be gratefulness
and appreciation for the underlying harmony. Anything less would be carping, or
else too trivial to bear. The universe is perfectly perfect, and everything is
just as it should be. If you think differently, it’s because selfish interests
are blocking your vision, not because of any defect in the nature of things.
Christian theologian whose name escapes me agrees that the only legitimate
prayer is thankfulness. If you realize what an awesome gift life is, you are
compelled to respond with gratitude, even when events are less than comfortable.
prayer or blessing of the Maharishis, the great seers, here, is svasti, meaning May it be well! The name
of the auspicious rotating cross or svastika is a related word, as “that which
gives the svasti or blessing.” Blasted into the Void by the intensity of their realization,
a one-word utterance is more than enough. Most often it is even less: the One
Syllable Aum, or its cognates Amen or Amin.
the way, this is the same svastika the Not Sees—Nazis—perverted into a symbol
of racial superiority. Hopefully their degradation of the “cross in motion” is
not retroactive. Now that we know with scientific certainty there is only a
single human race or species, the Nazi mentality is proved to be doubly
bankrupt. The Gita was written some 2500 years ago to try to coax the
troglodytes of its day into the light, and is one of the world’s greatest
masterpieces in favor of universal amity and the abolition of all schisms.
word Suras, referring to the wise or learned sages, is also quite interesting.
It is closely akin to Surya, the sun, implying the sages are radiant in their
wisdom. The bliss of realization emanates from them like light from a star.
Their opposite numbers would be the Asuras, the not-wise, otherwise known as
demons. Demonic behavior is a predictable outcome of the absence of wisdom.
Rudras, Adityas, Vasus and Sadhyas, Visvas and the two Asvins, Maruts and
Ushmapas, hosts of Gandharvas, Yashas, Asuras and Siddhas, all gaze at You,
with the Suras of the previous verse, the whole panoply of divine and
semi-divine beings are seen to be enthralled by the Absolute, their common
Source. We can think of them as myriad aspects of consciousness. The way some of
them fit into the progression of a revelation was presented in verse 6. The
rest are mostly of minor importance, except the Gandharvas, the celestial
musicians. They are keepers of the soma plant and appear to get high pretty
much all the time, either with music or the juice. Or both. They love the
sensual life. Music and psychedelics have always made a very happy combination!
Among other things, both activate the brain globally rather than locally.
Arjuna’s vision, the whole range of metaphysical beings is stupefied with
wonder. This is probably a projection of his own amazement. When we become
aware of the Absolute it can immobilize us. No matter how well we might be
prepared, the encounter is going to shock us out of our mind for awhile. Even
after the initial “aesthetic arrest” we are likely to become frozen by
conceiving of too many possibilities to sort out. To be able to act coherently
again we have to screen out the full awareness of our true nature, and thus we
begin to imagine ourselves as separate beings. This may be the defining paradox
of existence, that even though we are nothing but the Absolute, we have to
forget this fact in order to play the game of life. But once having
rediscovered our Self, we begin a return journey as competent adults to regain
awareness of our true nature.
the course of an ordinary life the ego can become like a closed fist,
unconsciously clenching its fictitious props in a vain attempt to preserve its
illusory self image. The yogic experience joins the practitioner with a
powerful flow that forces the fist to relinquish its grasp. The changes this
unleashes are so intense and rapid fire that the traveler can only surrender to
their commanding ministrations. The result is an openness to many formerly suppressed
aspects of being. It is nearly impossible to plan for being overwhelmed,
because by definition the experience must be outside of familiar parameters.
One cannot be overwhelmed and still remain in one’s comfort zone. A yogi should
therefore take a strong resolve to not be held in check by their beliefs, as
they can easily impede the process of spiritual awakening.
important spiritual truths have a very practical, down-to-earth side as well.
Joe Keohane, writing in the Boston Globe in 2010, reports that recent studies
have shown that people resist changing their beliefs even when presented with
facts that directly contradict them; in fact, contradictory facts often reinforce false beliefs:
Most of us like to
our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of
facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore,
have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our
opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And
rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose
to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our
preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad
information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us
more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new
Knowing this, it behooves us to be very careful
our opinions and beliefs, and only adopt the most open and well thought out
ones. It is crucial to be prepared to amend or discard them as new information
comes to us. Religious and political dogmatism generally serves as a barrier to
intelligent thinking, but we do not have to remain sequestered behind locked
doors in our mind. Wonder, however it is achieved, can jolt us out of our
stagnation and make us eager to shake off outmoded and unquestioned attitudes.
is reported to have said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children,
ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Young children, when properly
cared for, live in a permanent state of wonder, and spiritual ecstasy bears a
close resemblance to their blissful condition. In many parts of the world,
however, adults do their best to convert them out of their natural state with
all sorts of draconian disciplines. Exploratory learning is treated as
intentional misbehavior and severely curtailed, often in the name of God. This
may well be the preeminent reason for the myriad mental ills humans suffer as a
Gopnik, writing in the July 2010 issue of Scientific American, relates what
recent studies have revealed about the importance of the open mind of the
babies are designed to learn…. The lack of prefrontal [cortex] control in young
children naturally seems like a huge handicap, but it may actually be
tremendously helpful for learning. The prefrontal area inhibits irrelevant
thoughts or actions. But being uninhibited may help babies and young children
to explore freely. There is a trade-off between the ability to explore
creatively and learn flexibly, like a child, and the ability to plan and act
effectively, like an adult. The very qualities needed to act efficiently—such
as swift automatic processing and a highly pruned brain network—may be
intrinsically antithetical to the qualities that are useful for learning, such
new picture of childhood and human nature emerges from the research of the past
decade. Far from being mere unfinished adults, babies and young children are
exquisitely designed by evolution to change and create, to learn and explore.
These capacities, so intrinsic to what it means to be human, appear in their
purest forms in the earliest years of our lives. Our most valuable human
accomplishments are possible because we were once helpless dependent children
and not in spite of it. Childhood, and caregiving, is fundamental to our
Arjuna’s soma experience has converted
him for its duration
into a semblance of a young child: open, filled with wonder, unprejudiced,
learning at the speed of light. What a blessing to revisit that state as an
adult, where any positive changes can be rapidly made permanent.
turned around however briefly and become as an uninhibited little child, it is
most important to have a wise caregiver on hand to provide guidance until the
frontal cortex wakes back up. The lack of inhibition could lead the seeker into
danger, and a measure of it eventually needs to be restored. Now, though,
normal cautiousness can be worn much more lightly than before.
Your great form, with many faces and eyes, of many arms, thighs and feet, with
many stomachs, with many terrible teeth, the worlds are distressed, as also
the vision continues to expand, Arjuna’s limited perspective is shattered. As
we used to say, his mind is blown. What he sees plainly before him is more than
he can comfortably conceive of. While this will expand his horizons in the long
run, the sense of one’s familiar surroundings being stripped away is hard to
deal with. Where you should let go so you can expand to the next level, the
urge is to hold on to the known as tightly as possible. At this stage of a
trip, many people feel like they are dying. And they are—dying to a small world
that can no longer contain them. At the same time they are being reborn to a
greater dimension of who they are.
and setting are as important to a spiritual vision as they are to a psychedelic
experience. As noted earlier, set refers to the state of mind of the visionary,
in both their deeply fixed cultural and intellectual roots and the mental mood
of the day. The setting refers to the “mood” of the environment. Both of these
have a profound impact on the type of experience one has.
experience is never “pure” in the sense that it is wholly independent of
interpretation on the part of the one having the experience, and any boasting
along those lines is delusory. While what is apprehended might be related to the
unalloyed Absolute, the whole cannot be either taken in or explained without
breaking it into manageable parts, with the essence inevitably diluted by the
individual’s perspective. The human mind is incapable of fully processing the
stupendous light that Krishna is revealing, so it will overlay its intrinsic
conditioning onto the unconditioned absolute ground. One of the major tasks of
yoga practice is to eliminate as much of the diluting factors as possible, in
other words to remove the personal bias from every situation. Our personal interest is fine, just not the bias.
Other people’s needs are also to be taken into account.
can be considered the universe’s ongoing attempt to see itself as it really is,
in ever more detail, but as exciting as each leap forward is to the ones doing
the leaping, they all have their limitations. The process of refinement of our
understanding is apparently infinite. This means we can most accurately envision
the Absolute at the core of an experience after we subtract as much as we can
of our mindset and the circumstances attending it.
great deal of the work Krishna has been doing with Arjuna is designed to
rectify his state of mind in this very way, to provide him with the proper
“set.” If Krishna had revealed his Absolute nature to Arjuna when he was still
the brash warrior, his experience would have been militaristic in character. If
he had shown him the One Beyond while he was miserable and confused at the
inception of his discipleship, the vision would have been clouded by his desire
to withdraw. The warrior mentality is overly positive and the withdrawal
mentality is overly negative. Krishna’s subtle psychotherapy has led Arjuna to
an optimistic yet neutrally balanced state which will allow him to obtain the maximum
benefit from his present revelation. And throughout the whole trip Krishna is
standing by as a compassionate guide to insure that his dear disciple maintains
his balance, and to protect him from any unwelcome outside influences supplied
by the setting.
this careful preparation, it’s important to keep in mind that Arjuna remains
standing in the midst of an all-out battle, and his vision will be substantially
colored by this. The distress he is about to endure is in part due to the
martial setting. A poet sitting calmly by a secluded stream on a summer’s day
would have a vastly different interpretation than what Arjuna is about to
of the “bad vibes” in the set and setting, Arjuna is beginning to have a
paranoid reaction to his vision. We react negatively to the extent we are
attached to a static image of ourselves. This is adroitly expressed by Carl
Jung in this excerpt from “The Stages of Life” (1930), in CW 8: The Structure
and Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 764:
If we try to extract
the common and
essential factors from the almost inexhaustible variety of individual problems
found in the period of youth, we meet in all cases with one particular feature:
a more or less patent clinging to the childhood level of consciousness, a
resistance to the fateful forces in and around us which would involve us in the
world. Something in us wishes to remain a child, to be unconscious or, at most,
conscious only of the ego; to reject everything strange, or else subject it to
our will; to do nothing, or else indulge our own craving for pleasure or power.
In all this there is something of the inertia of matter; it is a persistence in
the previous state whose range of consciousness is smaller, narrower, and more
egoistic than that of the dualistic phase. For here the individual is faced
with the necessity of recognising and accepting what is different and strange
as a part of his own life, as a kind of “also-I.”
already noted, many people enter spiritual life not in a dispassionate search for
truth or scientific understanding, but to make their fragile and defensive egos
unassailable. By joining an established religious setup they become angelic by
association, and any criticism of them can be taken as hostility toward God or
the founding saint and dismissed out of hand. The implication is, “I’m in a
divine gathering, which makes me divine too. Therefore if you disagree with me,
you should be exiled or destroyed.” We see this bald-faced egoism plainly in
the two-year-old, but by adulthood the urge has been cloaked in more subtle—and
potentially more deadly—guises. Their aggressiveness is clearly a defensive
ploy, but unless they are convinced to drop it they will remain as they are.
seekers cannot abide a guru who criticizes them. They seek the benignly smiling
ones who treat them as their own dear child, or the pseudo-gurus whose anger is
always hurled at others, and that’s undoubtedly good enough for some. Shelter
from the storm is adequate, and satisfies the animal instinct to hide from
danger. But brave seekers of truth like Arjuna must be prepared to undergo a
baptism by fire, where the guru brings their faults out into the open so that
they can be acknowledged and relinquished. Coming out of hiding, they
eventually discover that there is nothing to fear, and make strides toward
embarking on a psychedelic trip for personal growth and insight should be
prepared for a similar rude awakening. As the word ‘guru’ means literally a
“remover of darkness,” whatever removes your darkness is a guru to you. It
would be very unwise to take a psychoactive medicine with the idea that it is
only going to stroke your ego and enhance your comfort zone. What you will
learn is where your blockages are, your hidden crutches and defenses. If you
aren’t willing to give those up, tripping is not a good idea for you.
“bad trip” is generally one where suppressed material from the unconscious surfaces
to confront the conscious mind. Since we suppress precisely what we fear most,
when it bursts out it can be exquisitely terrifying. Afterwards, though, the
one who has let it out may well find it has lost its sting, its power to
course, it’s possible that the soma brew of ancient India contained more toxic
alkaloids than modern pharmaceutically pure psychedelics do, and these can
definitely cause physical suffering that in turn makes a trip much more
frightening than it would be otherwise. It is easy to imagine you are dying,
for instance, when you are feeling powerful abdominal cramps. If your mind
focuses on a bodily ailment while tripping, it can quickly magnify the problem
to a major panic attack. Toxic alkaloids might be a factor in Arjuna’s state of
mind, but the Gita is concerned with presenting psychological truths rather
than cataloguing all the effects mushrooms can have, so we may safely leave
that question up in the air.
seeing You touching the sky, shining in many a color, with mouths wide open,
with large fiery eyes, my inmost self, intensely distressed, I find neither
courage nor control, O All-Pervading One.
dark side of our mental makeup often remains out of sight, fortunately for our
mental stability, but a spiritual or psychedelic thrust will sooner or later unearth
something ghastly that can blow away the meager defenses our complacency once
provided. When that happens, a sound philosophy can only offer a straw for the
drowning one to grasp, it can’t turn back the tide. There is nothing for it but
to be bowled over. But the terror does not kill; it tempers the mettle of the
psyche and strengthens it.
ego is very clever to take in all manner of spiritual teachings and subject them
to its domination, and the resulting spiritual ego is extremely hard to
dislodge from its perch. In the manner of an insular cabal excluding all
non-believers, doubts and challenges are dismissed without a hearing. If we are
particularly blessed, we may encounter an experience that floods the ego out of
its ability to co-opt every lesson to its own self-interested devices. Regardless
of how it comes about, whatever produces the flood should be treated as our
guru, our remover of darkness. That’s not so easy when our first instinct is to
is an arena where psychedelics are particularly efficacious. They confront
false beliefs, no matter how entrenched, with an irrefutable
counter-proposition. In the case of a human guru, it is always possible to
retain a degree of ego as a buffer against the intensity imparted, but a unique
ability of soma medicines is to temporarily circumvent all our conditionings. They
can be reconstructed, and often are, but at least we are given an opportunity
to choose between the valuable and the pernicious ones.
a yogi, balance in all things is called for. A mere nod to life’s negatives is
not enough. Since we are blessed to have so much positivity most of the time,
it is only right that this be counterbalanced in a way that cannot be denied.
It may be that the terror is so intense that it equates with a vast amount of
good times. And of course the exact proportions vary with every person.
Ultimately, the intense direct experience of good and bad eventualities can be
unified by the yogi to achieve a blissful neutrality that accepts and
transcends both. It takes time.
Jill Taylor’s stroke account cited earlier, she indicates that most of our
control, if not our courage, is located in the dominant, usually left,
hemisphere of the brain. In her case a ruptured aneurysm took the place of the
soma in opening her up to samadhi, taking her left brain offline and ushering
her into conscious contact with previously hidden aspects of her self, those
more in tune with what we call the absolute ground. She found the experience so
delightful that she often wondered why she should bother to regain left brain
function at all. The distress many people feel in these circumstances comes
from the left brain holding on as hard as it can to its fading dominance. It
has a tough time admitting that there is a non-manipulative part of our makeup,
and an even tougher time surrendering to it. Once the urge to control is
relinquished, though, we are able to relax and enjoy the ride.
seen Your mouths fearful with teeth, like time’s devouring flames,
I lose my spatial bearings and find no joy; be gracious, O Lord of Gods,
Container of the world!
Arjuna has lost his sense of space and time. The ancient rishis apparently
conceived of the world as a time/space continuum, just as we do. Arjuna is
entering a highly unsettling period of discontinuity.
up on Dr. Taylor’s left and right brain analogy, spatial bearings, among
others, are left brain functions, while joy is a right brain function. Arjuna
is losing control of his whole mind now, not just half as with a stroke. The
ultimate learning state only occurs when we rise out of ourselves completely.
The transition is virtually the same as dying, and so is resisted with whatever
remains of a person’s will to live, which is the source of the terror and
distress. Even knowing the experience is temporary, as with soma ingestion, may
not be adequate consolation. The fact is, anything that undermines the
experience is going to make it less compelling than it could have been. The
challenge is to surrender to all of it.
one’s bearings is what casts us into the transformative agony of direct
experience, unmitigated by the fairytales we usually cushion ourselves with.
Thomas Merton addresses an analogous stage of development in the opening
paragraphs of his book The New Man (Farrar
Straus and Company, 1961):
Life and death
are at war within us. As soon as we are born,
we begin at the same time to live and die.
we may not be even slightly aware of it, this
battle of life and death goes on in us inexorably and without mercy. If by
chance we become fully conscious of it, not only in our flesh and in our
emotions but above all in our spirit, we find ourselves involved in a terrible
wrestling, an agonia not of questions
and answers, but of being and nothingness, spirit and void. In this most
terrible of all wars, fought on the brink of infinite despair, we come
gradually to realize that life is more than the reward for him who correctly
guesses a secret and spiritual “answer” to which he smilingly remains committed.
This is more than a matter of “finding peace of mind,” or “settling religious
the man who enters into the black depths of the agonia, religious problems become an
unthinkable luxury. He has no time for such indulgences. He is fighting for his
life. His being itself is a foundering ship, ready with each breath to plunge
into nothingness and yet inexplicably remaining afloat on the void. Questions
that have answers seem, at such a time, to be a cruel mockery of the helpless
mind. Existence itself becomes an absurd question, like a Zen koan: and to find
an answer to such a question is to be irrevocably lost. An absurd question can
have only an absurd answer.
do not, in fact, simply supply answers to
questions. Or at least they do not confine themselves to this until they become
degenerate. Salvation is more than the answer to a question.
26 & 27) All these sons of Dhritarashtra,
with hosts of
rulers, Bhishma, Drona, and that son of a charioteer, with our warrior chiefs,
are rushing into Your fearful mouths, terrible
some are found sticking in the gaps between the teeth with their heads crushed
23-30 contain a subtheme of Krishna’s mouth moving steadily closer to Arjuna,
opening up and consuming everything on all sides of the battlefield he is
standing on, and finally bursting into flames. Read together the verses impart
an intense sense of dread and horror that almost reaches off the page to grasp
the reader by the throat. Back in the days when the tale was transmitted
orally, we can imagine the guru acting it out, creeping slowly toward the
disciples sitting cross-legged in the sand, then suddenly baring his teeth and
scaring the pants (or dhotis) off them. It’s hard to imagine a more hair-raising
vision than what Vyasa has recorded.
gristly mouth images symbolize how time eradicates everything, sooner or later.
Arjuna is seeing the inevitability of death for all the seemingly stable
figures in his life, most of whom surround him on the battlefield. Even for a
hardened warrior this is a severe shock. Yet this kind of revelatory jolt is
why soldiers sometimes feel more alive in combat than they ever do afterwards.
While we usually have some idea about
death, the actual perception of it chastens us to the depths of our soul.
is into the part of the trip where he would totally freak out if he hadn’t
entered it intentionally and consciously. Luckily he knows it is a vision
induced by the potion his guru has given him, and that that worthy fellow is
sitting right there acting as a guide, so it is almost bearable. If he believed
this mayhem just happened by accident, he might never be able to get over it. A
soldier confronting death is sustained by patriotic fervor, while a yogi cast
into the void is sustained by religious or philosophical imagery. None of it is
a match for death, but at a time like this we need all the help we can get.
fear of death is an invisible motivator lurking within every pulsation of the
world we live in. We can never be free of its influence until we acknowledge it
out in the open. Krishna’s vision brings death to Arjuna’s attention hyper-realistically,
so he can engage with the full measure of fear and horror it elicits.
confronting death is an essential part of the true rebirth glibly preached but
seldom practiced in many religions. Once you have experienced your own
extinction, death loses its sting. You can at last go forward as a free human
being who no longer has to choreograph your life to simply avoid pain and cling
to islands of pleasure in a doomed sea of hostility.
famously uses the same word, kala, to
indicate both time and death. Time indubitably erases all traces of each life,
sooner or later. In its inimitable way, death is about the most instructive
guru of all. Arjuna is seeing this truth “up close and personal,” with all its
terrors unassuaged by being cloaked in familiar concepts. He will soon beg for
his favorite religious image to comfort him, but it will not appear.
people mentioned here are all the combatants in the war Arjuna is caught up in,
telling us that the setting is vehemently impinging on his state of mind.
Again, this is an incidental aspect of the experience brought on by the
environment, and not necessarily an inevitable part of a spiritual vision.
spiritual catharsis is seldom completely divorced from its context, even though
there may be only occasional and tangential connection to the outside world.
Arjuna’s reference to the surrounding situation reminds us that the specific details
of his vision are not universal, but merely reflect his personal resonance with
what’s going on around him. We find a typical mixture of real and imaginary
elements, similar to the dreaming state, as the mind provides symbolic
adventures for real characters. Each visionary will understand and describe the
Absolute based on their own mindset and the setting in which their vision
occurs. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, only partial, less than absolute.
many rushing torrents of rivers race toward the ocean, so do these heroes in
the world of men enter Your flaming mouths.
if chewing everyone to bits wasn’t bad enough, now the mouths have all caught
fire, indicating a quantum intensification of Arjuna’s trip. The furiously
plunging rivers tell us that time has accelerated tremendously, a common effect
of soma ingestion. Time sense can be absent during the peak, as Arjuna
experienced earlier, but as “normalcy” returns it may be distorted in any
number of ways.
course of life has often been compared to a river, seeping out of the ground in
the remote, high mountains, following the course of its fate (in the form of
gravity and topography) over and around many obstacles, joining forces with
other similar streams, rushing headlong through the hills, before settling down
to a more dignified existence in the lowlands as a carrier of traffic and
enterprise. Ultimately it pours into the sea, symbolizing reunification with
the Absolute. From the ocean, the vaporous spirit of water is lifted up to waft
through the sky and return to the mountaintops as rain and snow, fulfilling the
cycle again and again. Since he’s quite agitated, Arjuna gives this poetic metaphor
a hysterical slant. Soldiers on a battlefield rush headlong into death; there
is no going gentle into any good night. The peaceful yogic merger with the
ocean is elbowed aside by a mad dash to flaming extinction.
this natural cycle of life and death is going on all the time, scenes of mass
carnage make it seem as though the extinction aspect has somehow assumed a
preeminent position. At the back of Arjuna’s mind he must be wondering, “We are
all going to die soon enough. Why hurry the process? Can’t we just stop for a
moment?” Afterwards he will be inspired to cherish every moment of life as if
it were his last. Death, the great guru, can show us how to truly live.
moths speed into a blazing fire to be destroyed, just so do these worlds also
speed into Your mouths unto their destruction.
and the previous verse offer analogies for the battlefield setting. It looks
like Arjuna is beginning to “come down” from the highest point, in which no
comparison made sense. As his mind begins to gather itself back together,
normal associative functions are gradually restored.
cannot live forever in the white heat of unitive experience of the Absolute, at
least in our current level of evolutionary development. Our mortal frame would
be destroyed. We can only have a brief sip of the nectar of immortality, and
then strive to incorporate the expanded mentality it has imparted into our
everyday life. A little goes a very long way, as Arjuna is realizing.
are a perfect analogy for warriors, since they imagine they are doing the right
thing by rushing to a flame, and yet they are plunging to their doom. Their
duty as they see it is fatal, and yet they are eager for it. If you carry moths
away from the fire they will fight you off and go right back to it.
recall a similar insight that ended my brief stint in a university. During the
Vietnam War, I visualized my academic career as being like a conveyor belt
drawing me slowly but surely into the maw of the military/industrial complex,
which then as always was bent on total and permanent warfare to appease its
insatiable appetite. All of us in science and math were a lot like moths
speeding toward the flames, as we eagerly competed for the best grades and the
best schools, blinded by our naivete and idealism. The conveyor belt vision did
liberate me from that ill fate, as I dropped out and soon aligned myself with a
guru of unsurpassed excellence, who helped me redirect myself to life-affirming
choices. But plenty of other “moths” pressed ahead with high hopes, only to
have their youthful idealism co-opted into gainful employment in the Death
have a young friend who recently graduated with an engineering degree and found
a great job with a terrific salary building remote-controlled model airplanes.
It was like being paid to play! Only gradually did it dawn on him that his
“toys” were being used for the execution without trial of random people in
faraway countries in an attempt to create enemies that could make the insanity
of war seem legitimate. The lure of the flames is so strong that he is finding
it hard to resist the good pay and seek more benign employment. The war machine
is filled with good-hearted, trusting people like him who didn’t bother to peek
behind the curtain to see what was really going on.
lick up all worlds, devouring on every side with Your flaming mouths, filling
the whole world with glory. Your fierce rays are blazing forth, O All-Pervading
celestial vision ends with him imagining all life forms on a high road to their
destruction. It’s as though they were born only so they could die. Again we can
say, that’s one way of looking at it, but surely their birth was the main point
of the whole game in the first place?
people’s trips end with a pervading sense of bliss and unity, which is perhaps
a positive exaggeration. Like many others, Arjuna has ended his on a negative
note, which is also an exaggeration. Any intense experience is likely to leave
you leaning one way or the other. So there is work to be done, to gather it all
into a healthy, balanced perspective. With Krishna’s help Arjuna will now get
serious about his “post-graduate” studies: learning to be a fully free and
independently motivated human being.
of his newfound conviction of the brevity of life, Arjuna will never again be
oblivious of where he’s going, like a heedless insect hurtling toward certain
death. He will want very much to know what he should do with his hour on the
stage to make it meaningful. The “glory” of simply being fuel for a funeral
pyre isn’t all that glorious when you have caught a whiff of the stench. Now he
craves to know what the real point of life is, and the best way to celebrate
a great paradox that a brush with death teaches us how to be more alive, and
without its blessing we so often live as though we are already deceased.
Several important people I have known stopped sleepwalking only when a doctor
pronounced their death sentence from disease. The rude shock woke them right
up, taught them what really mattered. Too bad they had so little time left to
run with it. Yet another blessing of a psychedelic adventure is to remind us we
are in a most temporary condition, and we must learn to be as alive as possible
within the brief flicker of our moment in the sun.
me who You are, so fierce in form! I bow to You, O Superior God. Be gracious! I
want to understand You, O Primal One, nor do I know Your positive continued
normal state of humanness is to identify with our beliefs, yet to not be aware
of how thoroughly we do identify with them: “I am my ideas,” “I am what I
think,” “I am what I have gone through,” “I am my expectations,” and so on.
These might well be consciously denied but are deeply felt in the body. There’s
a lot of resistance in conjunction with letting go of such notions, if only
briefly. Arjuna’s vision has completely smashed all such identifications. Now
he wants to replace them with new ones, based more on conscious, absolute
values than his former unexamined ones.
the moment, though, Arjuna is undone by his experience. He knows somewhere in
his memory that Krishna’s final teaching was for him to become united with the
Absolute in essence, devoted to the Absolute in intellect, sacrificial toward
the Absolute in mind set, and with an inward bow to That Alone in his every
action. Freaking out, with his habitual outlook permanently superceded, all he
can do is wildly claim that he is trying to bow—the very simplest of his
options, but still more than he can handle—and beg for Krishna to explain to
him what’s going on. His last phrase, “I do not know your positive continued
becoming,” simply means, “I don’t understand you.” He might well add, “I don’t
understand anything anymore.”
Guru succinctly describes the impossibility of fully knowing the Absolute in
his comments on this verse:
The limit of the
reached in this verse in which it is only a mark of interrogation and
exclamation that remains for Arjuna. The Absolute is still to be known. The
vision only covers aspects of the Absolute, beginning from the ontological and
leading up through the teleological to a notion that culminates in a tremendous
mystery beyond which it is evidently impossible to reach through visions and
descriptions. Arjuna is left in bewilderment even at the end of the most direct
of visions that could possibly be described.
the end of a trip a person is in a highly suggestible state of mind. There is a
new openness, coupled with a realization that there is a lot more going on that
you once thought. It is important to be in the care of one whom you trust to
not lead you astray. This is the moment when a manipulative person could
implant ideas at a deeper level even than hypnotic suggestion. Simple
affirmations help gather one’s energy toward constructive vectors; paranoid or
negative ones incite destructive behavior. Complete silence might foster a
continuation of the confusion, or else permit some random thought to have an
is a particularly delicate moment in spiritual development, with the disciple
susceptible to many kinds of input. A guru or guide must be very careful not to
supply new identifications with a selfish or relativistic taint. The gist of
the teaching is for us to live out a life in full awareness and harmony with
the Absolute. In his response to Arjuna’s plea, Krishna, as the guru par
excellence, reiterates the call to spiritually arise and remain fully awake and
alive. There is not a word about worshipping him or any other kind of groveling
attitude. Likewise a therapist or guide will gentle dissuade transference
impulses in the patient, where their gratitude is projected outward and focused
on the messenger rather than the message.
32-34) Krishna said:
am world-destroying Time, grown into hardened maturity, operating here continuously,
desolating the worlds. Even without you, none of the warriors standing in the
opposing armies shall continue to exist.
Therefore, arise and gain fame! Conquering your
the realm of abundance. By Me they have already been slain. Be the incidental
cause only, Arjuna.
Drona and Bhishma, Jayadratha, Karna, and the
battle heroes, are all slain by Me. Do not be distressed. Fight on, you shall
conquer in battle your rival co-warriors.
opening phrase is what came into the mind of nuclear physicist Robert
Oppenheimer as he witnessed the first atomic bomb test in 1945. The translation
he himself made was “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” If he had
access to Sri Aurobindo’s early twentieth century version, it might have been
even more apt as the gigantic mushroom cloud roared into the sky that morning:
“I am the Time-Spirit, destroyer of the world, arisen huge-statured for the
destruction of the nations.” Since death and time are meant by the same word in
Sanskrit, both translations are common, with time predominating in the more scholarly
versions. On reflection, death and time are intimately related.
soma revealing the dormant power of consciousness, nuclear fission and fusion
unleash a vast energy lying latent within matter. Energy and consciousness bear
more than a passing similarity, and could well be twin aspects of the same
principle. The material universe is a temporary coalescence of virtually
infinite energy, and its solidification as matter allows various types of
beings to carve out a temporary existence in the face of those titanic forces. Beings
are like islands of detritus that form on the surface of the ocean, only to be
scattered again by the action of wind and waves. In the Vedantic viewpoint,
consciousness coalesces as nature in a similar centripetal impulse. In either
perspective, the ground of the seemingly ordinary is actually the unimaginably
which comes from the same root as cure, leads us to pry beneath the surface and
reconnect with this supernal source. And while it is possible to proceed as if
there is only a surface in life, seekers of truth are impelled by an
unquenchable curiosity to hunt for their own cure through realization. While
offering a sense of connection, of belonging and being “home” in a way, realization
is also highly disconcerting, as the intensity of the energy released threatens
to melt away whatever temporary forms have taken root on its face.
in the attempt to harness atomic power, regaining conscious awareness of our
origins is likewise fraught with danger. There is a lethal downside to
counterbalance the ecstatic upside, and reintegrating the flood of new insights
is both a challenge and an essential part of a meaningful existence. Without
assistance, many fall by the wayside, permanently confused and disoriented by
the experience. Like liberated atomic energy, the genie of expanded
consciousness cannot easily be put back in the bottle. It will have to be
intelligently taken into account in one’s evolutionary development forever
is important to see how these three verses are an answer to Arjuna’s plea of
verse 31. He begs for Krishna to reveal who he is and explain his “positive
continued becoming,” which means his Time aspect with a capital T. In other
words, what’s going on and where is it all headed? Krishna’s reply addresses
his disciple’s request measure for measure, in true guru fashion.
first asked, “Tell me who you are,” and Krishna replies, “I am time.” Arjuna
then said, “I bow to you,” and Krishna tells him to “arise and gain fame.” When
Arjuna says, “I don’t understand you,” Krishna responds that he, the Absolute,
is the true cause of everything, whereas individuals are no more than
incidental causes. He means there is a large scale evolution taking place in
the universe that is not subject to individual control, but within that grand
scheme individuals do have a role to play in the unfoldment of their existence.
tend to take the imagery of these verses too literally, assuming that Krishna
is directing Arjuna to rejoin the war and start fighting. Probably the
widest-spread misconception surrounding the Gita is that it advocates war.
Proponents of war conveniently ignore the frequent calls to ahimsa,
non-hurting, and other gentle virtues, throughout the Gita.
should keep in mind that Arjuna’s foes are symbolic of inner challenges and are
not simply men on a battlefield. The call to arise and fight here echoes former
demands to stand up and face life. Even as near to the actual level as Chapter
III, verse 43, Krishna said “Stabilizing the self by the Self, kill that enemy
in the form of desire, so difficult to overcome.” As the Gita has become more
idealized chapter by chapter, there is no reason to think that gross action is
in any way being suddenly recommended.
Gita has often been used to inflame warlike sentiments, and Arjuna does have
his own actual war to wage—-after all, he is a warrior standing on a
battlefield. But the rest of us should be busy converting the symbolism to our
own circumstances as they arise. Krishna’s advice is true for every person in
every situation. Superficially it sounds like an incitement to wage war, but it
is in fact an invitation to live life to the hilt.
urging here has a long history, well worth recapitulating, so that we are less
inclined to take it at face value. In Chapter II, 37 and 38, Arjuna is asked to
arise and fight with a neutral attitude to avoid sin, but Krishna points out
that this is the argument of rationalism and he has even better things up his
sleeve. In verse 49 he says, “pitiful indeed are they who are benefit
motivated,” and acting to avoid sin is certainly an example of benefit
III, 43, the next exhortation is IV, 42: “Therefore, sundering with the sword
of Self-knowledge this ignorance-born doubt residing in the heart, stand firm
in the unitive way, and stand up, Arjuna.” Such a person “cannot be bound by
V concludes by saying the one who knows the Absolute in everything and as the
friend of all beings reaches peace.
VI brings this trend to a peak in verse 5: “By the Self the Self must be
upheld; the Self should not be let down; the Self indeed is its own dear
relative; the Self indeed is the enemy of the Self.” The chapter concludes in
verse 46: “The yogi is greater than men of austerity, and he is thought to be
greater than men of wisdom, and greater than men of works; therefore become a
yogi, Arjuna.” Fighting actual wars is the task of men of works. It would be
quite out of keeping for Krishna to recommend it here in the eleventh chapter.
is true, though, that Arjuna has found himself in the rare position of being a
warrior in a legitimate war. “Legitimate wars” are rarer than dodos, but in
this case Arjuna’s family has plumbed every alternative, giving ground over and
over. They have been left standing on a postage stamp-sized plot of ground, and
their foes are reaching to yank even that out from under them. When those conditions
are truly met—and are not just hoped for in testosterone-fueled patriotic
fantasies—actual fighting becomes a necessity.
other words, self-defense after all else has failed is the sole legitimate
excuse for warfare. Virtually all fighting on any scale is initially offensive,
not defensive, though it is usually couched in propaganda to make it seem defensive, with the first offensive
stroke being to blame the victim. The thirst for battle is clear evidence of
mental instability; the fact that it is a widespread form of insanity does not
legitimize it. One way of looking at yoga is that it is a method of becoming
civilized, of rising above our base reactivity to respond with wisdom in place
of violence; certainly it is the opposite of making war.
warfare is a thousand times more terrible than in the relatively honorable days
of the Gita. Then at least, war meant soldier versus soldier, fighting hand to
hand. Now that civilians are prime targets, and the aim is to actually create an enemy by inflicting widespread
misery and outrage among them, not to mention the total lack of contact between
widely separated combatants, there is no possibility of honor in warfare.
warriors in ancient India were kshatriyas, members of the second highest caste,
with a lot of independence, not unlike medieval knights. Today all warriors
below the highest rank are akin to sudras, the lowest, utterly servile caste.
They are strictly prohibited from independent thought or action, and so are
merely glorified slaves, cannon fodder to be used as sacrificial pawns by
popular notion that the Gita is pro war is espoused particularly by those who
harbor entrenched belligerent attitudes, who are looking for trouble. Such
types always find a way to justify their behavior, including the invocation of
phrase “spoiling for a fight” is quite apt. When a person has been trained to
retaliate aggressively against apparent provocations, the inner state is tilted
toward hostility. Like a rotting fruit, the cancer starts innocently enough but
soon spreads to destroy every bit of it. Again, as all spiritual teachers tell
us, the inner state is the key. If you want peace you must be peaceful. If you
are angry, you are constantly under stress and worse, and that will precipitate
most acute problem from a spiritual perspective is that the typical human is
predisposed to fight. It’s not that we are neutral and simply answer the needs
of the situation, but inwardly we are bristling for a confrontation. All sorts
of apparent provocations are not true calls to battle, they are desperate cries
for real solutions. But as fighting has been venerated and practiced for
millennia, there is a deeply lodged prejudice in its favor. If a yogi learns to
act without predilections, the need to enter physical combat becomes extremely
unlikely, though it cannot be utterly abandoned, as Arjuna’s case indicates.
along with our survey of Krishna’s battlefield exhortations, Chapter VII has no
directive for Arjuna, and VIII speaks only of contemplatives in general, in
verse 28: “Whatever meritorious result is found implied in the Vedas, in
sacrifices, austerities and in gifts, the contemplative who is unitively
established, having understood this (teaching), transcends all these and
attains to the supreme primal state.”
IX, verse 34, brings this ever more subtle sequence to a close with the
teaching that sums up the highest conclusion of the Gita: “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.”
all this, when Krishna says to conquer our foes, he is instructing us to
overcome our obstacles, on every level. Arising to gain fame means becoming
proficient in our chosen lifestyle. And the fact that these obstacles or foes
have already been killed by “Time” means that all our opposition will
eventually vanish like the morning mist. Of course, so will we. An absolutist
or scientific perspective sweeps away temporal difficulties, which are always
manifested in the form of the people who embody them. Four specific people are
mentioned here, who embody second-best characteristics in opposition to
absolutism, namely magic and divine boons (Karna and Jayadratha), Vedic or
religious ritualism (Drona) and well-meaning patriarchy (Bhishma).
can’t ignore the implication that the flow of the Absolute through time is
geared to sweeping away obstacles. The more we link up with its tidal surge,
the easier it is to pass through life’s many roadblocks. There is plenty of
positive reinforcement in Krishna’s words, especially the last part of verse 34
where he assures Arjuna he will prevail in his own battle. We should go forward
in full confidence, and there is nothing like inner surety to enable it. But
our confidence absolutely must be based on legitimate understanding, or it will
too easily become the swaggering of inebriated souls marching toward their
people react to immediate influences, and so find themselves eternally buffeted
by necessity, but the contemplative eye is able to get “distance” on any
situation. It is in this sense that the obstacles we face are all “killed” by
Krishna as Time. We have to take the long view.
direct experience of the Absolute has accelerated him out of the highly
pressurized here and now and into the everywhere and always, you might say.
This marks his true birth as a philosopher or rishi. Typical of a guru, Krishna
advises him at this very moment to also attend to the actual situation in which
he finds himself. The task of the guru is to counterbalance any and all
exaggerations of the disciple, so that between the two sides of the polarity absolute
neutrality is preserved. If the disciple is captivated by trivial concerns, the
guru will draw their attention to the big picture. When they are spaced out and
unfocused, the guru gently (or rudely if necessary) brings them back to earth.
you have just had the most mindblowing experience of your life, and you have
barely begun to wonder what to make of it all. While sitting there totally
bemused, your guide tells you to stop stewing and get on with your life, and
begin putting everything you’ve just learned into practice. You can start by
cleaning up your room and taking a bath. Then write about the experience you
don’t even understand yet. Isn’t that just like a guru!
is quite rightly undone by his experience. Without assistance he might very well
become tamasic, lacking direction and motivation. Such has been the fate of
many who traveled a similar road unaided. Like a medic at a disaster scene,
Krishna will step in to administer first aid, to help drive away confusion and
restore his patient to a positive role in keeping with his dharma. The Gita is
supportive of healthy activity, here as ever.
“realm of abundance” is this world, filled with everything we need for a
challenging and fulfilling life. Krishna unequivocally instructs Arjuna to
enjoy it and not to withdraw and retreat. We are here to make history a
supremely interesting story, and not a repetitive struggle with boredom.
could try to imagine what other advice Krishna might have given at this
critical juncture, and it would bring us to a better appreciation of Vyasa’s
choice. Should he say “Okay now, let’s tiptoe off the battlefield and seek
refuge in a monastery, where we can spend our days in reflection”? Hardly.
Krishna has always been trying to restore Arjuna to his true inner nature or
dharma, and he has a very active temperament. Should he say “Now that you’ve
seen the truth, let’s go establish a new life for you based on what you’ve
learned”? Again, that might work if Arjuna was mired in a false livelihood, but
the fact is that he belongs where he
is. He really is a warrior. To have second thoughts about his life would be a
waste of time, a manifestation of anxiety. He is an honorable person, already
engaged in an honorable life. There’s no reason for him to feel regret. So we
find Krishna’s advice very appropriate: “Stand up and fulfill the life you
already have, imbued with your newfound wisdom.” It’s very beautiful. The
actual battle will soon be over, but the challenges of life will never cease.
Meeting them head on is the high road to happiness.
33 mentions Arjuna being an incidental cause only. This is similar to religious
concepts of being an instrument of the divine. We have discussed before (in IV,
34) that this has a dualistic quality outside the parameters of unitive yoga.
It is absolutely essential to recognize that voice in your head as your own
ordinary descriptive chatter, and not mistake it for divine instruction.
Everyone has an inner narrator, but it is a sign of severe mental illness to
unquestioningly or helplessly follow its dictates. Yoga is about transcending
trivial chatter to access more substantive aspects of our being, not about
becoming a raving lunatic driven by the voice of “God.”
understand this as good advice, we must recall the gist of Krishna’s teachings
to this point. The unmanifest cannot act; only manifested entities can act. We
actualize unmanifest potentials as we live our lives. To listen to some
imaginary voice inside and then try to follow its suggestions is a recipe for
delusion and disaster, since that voice is merely a compendium of all that we
have heard and thought and desired in our life. Something much more unitive is
meant by these words, such as, don’t take yourself so seriously! The world is
evolving according to a vast unfolding drama, and you are but a gnat in the
prevailing windstorm. So go ahead and frolic in the current, but please
restrain yourself from unleashing your egotistical desires on the world around
you. Don’t get a swelled head and imagine you are running the show all by
yourself. We are all in this together.
heard that speech, Arjuna, stuttering emotionally and trembling with fear, with
palms joined worshipfully, bowed down before Krishna and spoke these words:
Krishna said in the last three verses must have got through to Arjuna, based on
his reaction. It was the ultimate answer to the ultimate question, and Arjuna
is very appreciative. The words have satisfied him like nectar to one dying of
now knows his interpretation of the Absolute as a person or even as a deity is
inadequate. All limitations have fallen away, and he is inundated by a vision
of Totality. His state is not conducive to returning to normal activity, at
least right away. Ideally he would instantly “arise and gain fame,” but realistically
a lot of work remains for him to normalize his consciousness. He needs to sort
through his conditioned responses of neurological circuitry (samskaras) and discard the useless or
outmoded ones, reinforcing instead the best of them. This is an ongoing
activity. As Dr. Taylor puts it in her previously cited book:
What most of us don’t
that we are unconsciously making choices about how we respond all the time. It
is so easy to get caught up in the wiring of our preprogrammed reactivity
(limbic system) that we live our lives cruising along on automatic pilot. I
have learned that the more attention my higher cortical cells pay to what’s
going on inside my limbic system, the more say I have about what I am thinking
and feeling. By paying attention to the choices my automatic circuitry is
making, I own my own power and make more choices consciously. In the long run,
I take responsibility for what I attract into my life. (147)
Huxley’s theory of the brain as a reducing valve is relevant here. Similarly to
quantum theory it holds that we select only a tiny percentage of the total
sensory input with which to construct our world view. Direct confrontation with
the vastness of even the local universe is too much for anyone to deal with, so
the brain blocks out nearly all of it, usually selecting one ensemble that
either poses a threat or offers a possibility of reward. We become comfortable
and even smug in our selected slice of world. If some event tears away the
veils and allows more of actuality in than we can handle, the mind is blown, shocked
into arrest until it can wrap itself around the input. When the floodgates are
opened and we are tossed into the maelstrom, we can only sink or swim. The rule
to remember is that if you panic and flail you sink, but if you relax you
is fortunate to have his Guru present to help him deal with the oceanic
experience he is just coming down from, since there is a very thin line (or no
line at all) between a spiritual experience and insanity. Studies have shown
that artistic creativity and schizophrenia overlap significantly, and an
outmoded term for psychedelics, though still occasionally used, is
psychotomimetics, drugs that mimic psychosis. Without assistance, some
visionaries end up in the locked ward. In fact, the entire remainder of the
Gita is designed to teach Arjuna how to integrate his experience so that he can
cope with his heightened awareness and become a positive contributor instead of
a misfit. Because rechanneling the unleashed creative energy of the mind can be
inhibiting if overdone, the process must be handled with great insight and
Krishna, it is but right that the world is delighted in praising You, that
demons fly in fear to every quarter, and that all hosts of perfected ones bow
in adoration to You.
only is Arjuna a little bit giddy, but he is more importantly demonstrating his
newfound stature as a rishi-philosopher. Where before he was asking innocent
questions, he is now making incisive proclamations, asserting what he has just
learned from his own experience. A subtle but crucial threshold has been
crossed, and Arjuna will never be the same.
we can’t help but notice the dualism he inserts between demons and perfected
ones. Krishna has been uncompromisingly all-inclusive throughout, insisting he
is present everywhere, but Arjuna has not yet risen to that rarified
perspective. This may be the slight imperfection that leads to Krishna’s
excoriation of demonic types later on, in Chapter XVI. For now, we should
realize that Arjuna’s attitude isn’t absolutely “right,” so we want to be
careful not to adopt his “good guys versus bad guys” mentality. Such mistakes
have undermined many an originally clear-eyed outlook. A seeker is granted a
vision of the unitive state, and afterward may simplistically reason that the
unitive view is right and the non-unitive is therefore wrong. Such an attitude
eradicates the unity, and almost unnoticed opens the door to all manner of
conflicts. Krishna has been advising Arjuna all along to stand up for his place
in the scheme of things with a unitive attitude, not as a self-righteous
warrior. The distinction is subtle but crucial.
most important lesson to take from this is that we may well feel enlightened
and ready to make cogent proclamations after a trip, but it could be pure
hubris as much as pearls of wisdom. We should be careful to observe ourselves
closely and be prepared to hold back, so that our ego doesn’t run away with us.
Our newfound freedom should be directed inwards more than outwards, for a
number of reasons. It keeps us from raving, and it reminds us that other people
have not shared our experience and don’t necessarily want to hear about it. Our
own psyche is the proper field for transformation, and not so much the world
outside, which has its own independent trajectory.
why should they not bow to You, O Great Self, more venerable even than Brahma,
the first maker, O Endless God of Gods, Basis of the Universe! You are the
Imperishable One, existence and nonexistence, and what is beyond even that.
upon a time, humanity grasped how intelligent the universe was. Every cloud and
feature of the landscape was known to be alive, and every living creature was
respected for its wisdom.
there followed an interim period where we adopted a hypothesis that only humans
were intelligent, and all else was inert, blind or otherwise stupid. This
permitted rampant exploitation of the planet and its creatures, but otherwise
was an utterly bankrupt theory, not to mention criminal and in the long run possibly
even suicidal. The list of cruelties inflicted by the human race on its fellow
beings is an endless litany of horror. Thankfully, we are slowly regaining an
appreciation of just how amazing the universe truly is, and how intelligent all
its parts are. Not just animals, with their demonstrably similar kinds of
intelligence to humans, but plants, single cells, and even atoms and molecules,
are coming to be known as aware of and interactive with their environment. Mimi
Guarneri, a respected cardiologist, has even presented scientific evidence that
the heart has an intelligence of its own, independent of the brain, located in
its own nerve ganglion. Planetary and even larger systems are beginning to be
seen as functioning intelligently by some measures. So the tragic—-stupendously
tragic—-conceit of the human race is easing up a little. Yogis should abet the
process by cultivating humility and an appreciation of how wise the cosmos in
fact is. We are not the most advanced intelligence around. We are unique in
some ways, but we are dwarfed by the intelligence that keeps all systems in
harmony and running virtually forever. The tiny bit we understand is bestowed
on us by this all-encompassing principle of conscious intelligence, to which we
should be eternally grateful, as Arjuna is to his favorite example of it,
Twain expressed a similar anti-hubris sentiment with devastating sarcasm in an
essay entitled Was the World Made for
Man? in which he lampoons the pretention that evolution
has its culmination
in the human race. As the Creator struggled to bring about the human race:
It was foreseen that
have to have the oyster. Therefore the first preparation was made for the
oyster…. This is not done in a day…. At last the first grand stage in the
preparation of the world for man stands completed, the oyster is done. An
oyster has hardly any more reasoning power than a scientist has; and so it is
reasonably certain that this one jumped to the conclusion that the nineteen
million years was a preparation for him; but that would be just like an oyster,
which is the most conceited animal there is, except man. And anyway, this one
could not know, at that early date, that he was only an incident in a scheme,
and that there was some more to the scheme, yet.
Of course, scientists have come a long way since
time, but the all too human propensity to imagine we are the last word in
evolutionary excellence is still quite persistent.
are the First of the Gods, and the Ancient Spirit; You are the Supreme Basis of
the Universe; You are both the Knower and the Knowable; You are the
(transcendent) Beyond and the (immanent) Receptacle (here); the universe is
pervaded by You, O One of Limitless Form!
philosophical outlook is improving rapidly as he attains some distance on his
momentous visions, and this verse is much more unitive—if such a notion can be
excused from being an oxymoron—than his previous attitudes. All the terms used
here have appeared before, but now it is apparent that Arjuna truly understands
what they mean. He is speaking declaratively, from his own direct knowledge. He
has made them his own.
newly established excellence as a philosopher-yogi is evidenced in his
dialectical pairing of some of the terms. Dialectics as employed by the Gita
simply means the joining of opposites—the thesis and antithesis—into a unity
that is greater than the sum of its parts, known as the synthesis. Yoga, the
Gita’s term for this type of dialectic, unites opposing perspectives to achieve
the synthesis known as realization or enlightenment. The neutrality attained by
viewing both sides of a proposition symmetrically reveals the Absolute at its
core. The Absolute is thus the synthesis of every dialectic, as well as the
realization of Yoga. Arjuna now knows that all the dualities of life are
subsumed in the unitivity of the Absolute, which he addresses familiarly here as
first phrase of the verse unites the two main streams of religious thought, the
shining ones of the present and the ancestral legacy of the past. Where
religions are often pitted against each other, Arjuna now sees them as
different aspects of a single underlying truth.
and knowable clearly belong together as a matched pair; their synthesis is
knowledge. The keynote of Vedantic philosophy is that the knower and what is
known both arise together from a universal consciousness, and bringing them
back together restores the Absolute basis of awareness.
word translated as Receptacle (dhama)
has elsewhere been called the Supreme Abode. Nataraja Guru is correct to
perceive that since the transcendent and immanent aspects are being paired
here, the word is used in that sense. This is yet another of the essential
paradoxes addressed in Vedanta, and uniting them is a supreme achievement.
“limitless form” is a dialectical pair. Form has to be limited or it makes no
sense, and what is unlimited cannot be constrained in any form. Yet when these
are combined, the incomprehensible Absolute emerges from the paradox.
common aftereffect of soma ingestion is a proclivity for seeing the contrary of
every proposition. An immediate awareness of the flip side of everything comes
to mind. Because it is the true nature of the cosmos, the unity underlying
duality is readily accessed as soon as the mind is able to let go of its
one-sided prejudices. It is not a state that has to be built up, but only
unity has been apprehended, it is seen everywhere. The knack for perceiving it
tends to “wear off” as the dual function of the left brain wakes back up, and
that’s fine for dealing with everyday routines. In a dualistic universe unity
is often “out of place,” and can even render a person dysfunctional. But the
ability to access a nondual state of mind is very valuable for our inner well
being, and it can be retained with practice. Recognizing the unity of life is a
mark of adulthood, which explains why many early societies used psychedelic
medicines as a rite of passage. Children cling to their partial understanding,
fearful of letting go of it because the Beyond is unknown to them. They become
adults when they learn to trust what the universe has to offer beyond threats
to their survival.
are the God of Wind, Death, Fire, Ocean, the Moon, first of Progenitors and the
Great-Grandsire. Hail! Hail to You! A thousand times and again, hail! Hail to
we borrow Earth from the previous verse in the guise of the supreme basis, we
once again discover all the Great Elements here, connected as they are with the
seven chakras or energy centers of the body. Form, Ocean, Fire and Wind are
related to the first four chakras, more commonly called earth, water, fire and
air. Death must be associated with the fifth chakra, that of akasha, or space. The moon is ever a
symbol of individual consciousness, since it is a reflection of the light of
the Source, the sun, and so is located in the sixth chakra. True origination
pours in through the seventh chakra, which is thus the first of progenitors.
The first of progenitors in Arjuna’s religious context is named Prajapati, who
has already made an important appearance in III, 10-15.
between the lines, Arjuna’s meditation as he regains awareness of his body is
to tune in to each chakra in turn and connect it with the Absolute in
principle, thereby harmonizing his entire system and flooding it with energy.
This is an excellent meditation any time, but is especially effective in his
expanded state of mind.
most important lesson in this is that Arjuna is realizing non-theoretically
that Krishna is the Absolute, which means he is Everything. If Arjuna were to
become merely a literal Krishna worshipper, he would be limiting his idea of
the Absolute to a specific form. But he knows he must love everything equally,
because everything is equally infused with divinity. Several times already the
equality of everything has been underlined by Krishna, most notably in V, 18
and VI, 8 and 9.
to You before and after; prostrations to You on every side; O All, of endless
potency and immeasurable strength, You terminate all, then You become All!
series of dialectical statements epitomize Arjuna’s newfound insights. He is
exploding with joyful amazement as he discovers how everything fits together so
symmetrically to produce a perfect universe, and it forces him to bow his head
in awe. Krishna has asked him to remain standing, so it is a mental obeisance,
an inward gesture of appreciation, not a physical one.
first prostrates to both time and space, or in other words, to all vertical and
horizontal factors in the scheme of things. He is expanding beyond the here and
now of his immediate vision to begin to take the past and the future into
account (“before and after”) as well as the vast extension of the material
universe (“on every side”). Potency and strength together are a matched pair,
as in potential and kinetic energy. Every actualization reveals a formerly
hidden potential and unleashes its forces, and realizing this will imbue Arjuna
with an eagerness to express his own latent talents. The third pair is
destruction and creation, expressed as termination and becoming. Krishna as the
Hindu Vishnu is assigned the role of preserver in between those poles, but
Arjuna now recognizes that the Absolute comprises all three aspects of
existence at once.
other commentators render the last phrase along the lines of “You permeate all,
then you become all,” which is basically redundant. Because he understands the
secret of yoga as taught by the Gita, Nataraja Guru calls on a different sense
of the Sanskrit original: to finish, bring to a conclusion or put an end to;
even simply, destroy. Translating it this way tells us that Arjuna now
understands the cyclic nature of the universe and the Absolute’s role in it. During
his trip, Arjuna became so mesmerized by the destructive aspect of the Absolute
that he couldn’t see past it. Now he is confident that creation, preservation
and destruction operate eternally in rotation. Coming into existence and going
out of it are mirror images floating on a sea of eternity.
this stage, where Arjuna is emerging from his vision and gathering himself
together filled with new vistas, everything has taken on a more profound
significance than he ever knew in his former semi-alert state. At the same time,
he is about to realize that he previously treated Krishna as his servant, and
before that his friend, and now he feels mortified about his radical
underestimation of who his guru really is. His new, heightened awareness will
lead him naturally to the self-deprecating embarrassment over his former lack
of respect that is expressed in the next pair of verses.
is really disconcerting if we become aware of the baseline of arrogance that
many of us adopt as a matter of course to survive in a seemingly hostile world.
If we realized how callous and heedless we are of the manifold wonders of
existence, it would be like suddenly standing naked in front of a crowd, or in
the eyes of God as it is sometimes poetically put.
vividly recall a similar exposure in my own life, in 1971, when Guru Nitya
wrote to all of us living with him in the newly founded Portland Gurukula
that “there is an assumed
superiority in the mind of all the aggressive races who have built up their
fortune on the unwilling meekness of slaves. There is a concealed cruelty right
in the heart of all their enthusiasm and kindness. As I see this ugly face
sometimes very pronounced behind their sweetness and sincerity, I cannot help
pointing my finger at it.” (Now found in Love
and Blessings, p. 350.) He was speaking partly about himself
as a dark
skinned Indian, and how we were taking him for granted and showing very little
appreciation for all he was doing for us. We were a bunch of white, very
fortunate youngsters who were essentially clueless, and we did assume that it
was our birthright to be catered to by even a great guru. Nitya’s barb caused
me great pain and shame, and prodded me to closely reexamine how I saw myself
in relation to people from different backgrounds.
is the flip side of deference. Krishna’s call to Arjuna to stand up means not
to either grovel or swagger, but to achieve a normalized awareness and neutrality
about his environs. He will first have to lose all vestiges of his princely
conceit, both conscious and unconscious, before he can attain that expert
41 & 42) Whatever I have said rashly, from
or fondness, addressing You as “O Krishna, O Yadava, O Comrade,” thinking of
You as an intimate and ignorant of Your greatness,
and for whatever jesting irreverence I may have
whether at play, reposing or seated, or at meals, either when remaining by
myself or when You were present, that I ask you to forgive, O Unpredicable One!
knew this was coming: Arjuna now feels keen embarrassment over having mistaken
the paradisiacal nature of everything for some sort of “ordinary” reality. We
all do this as a matter of course, so it’s nothing peculiar to him. We treat
the miracle of existence as if it were nothing more than a lifeless accident.
We imagine the mind is merely an epiphenomenon of matter, as though matter
itself is something dead and inert! Einstein demonstrated that matter is merely
a temporary form of nearly infinite energy, and it’s really only an appearance of form at that. Scientists
take for granted that every atom within matter is a whirling swirl of intensely
focused activity, and yet at some point in processing that truth there is a
disconnect. When we conceptualize something, it tends to become inert, static,
fixed in time and space. The fault lies not in the material universe itself but
in our way of looking at it.
has just had his own concepts explosively revised to reveal what he, like Hamlet’s
Horatio, has been leaving out of his philosophy. One would imagine that this
happening time and time again throughout history would incline more people to
reexamine their assumptions with an open mind, but apparently it is a difficult
exercise, best facilitated by some kind of shock. After all, “the darkness
around us is deep,” as the poet William Stafford puts it.
learning programs are aimed at fixing a workable picture of reality so that the
developing child can safely function. There is a tremendous sense of
accomplishment in operating the body and in becoming an integrated member of the
local tribe. As they grow up, most people either rest in their satisfaction
over fitting in or else sulk about the fact that they don’t. Only the seekers,
the few who dare to aim at transcendence of the status quo, look beyond the
ordinary. But no one can fully prepare themselves for a leap into totality. At
that moment everything is renewed. What was dead becomes filled with life; and what
was taken for granted can never be fully subscribed to again. Everything is now
known to be dynamic, ever changing. The seer can only bow in humble amazement
at the wonder of it all. There will almost certainly be regret over the entrenched
attitudes he or she formerly clung to, but they should be relinquished with a
minimum of fuss. Krishna will certainly forgive Arjuna his unintentional ignorance,
because the game of life is all about shedding ignorance in favor of wisdom.
Too, there is unique pleasure in realizing the profundity of one’s blindness as
it falls away. It seemed so right, and all of a sudden it looks ridiculous! The
awareness is humbling, and helps reduce the ego, which otherwise can blunder
into a messianic complex when it is granted an extraordinary vision.
is not uncommon for the beneficiary of a psychedelic experience to be elated by
what feels like divine love and insight, and later to be chagrined at how
swaggering and ignorant all their former attitudes were. We act as if we know
what we’re doing, when in fact we know virtually nothing. Our certitudes are
merely habitual assumptions. If we examine our former attitudes while in an
elevated state, they seem aggressive and boorish, as well as incredibly
egotistical. Trip or no trip, Arjuna has just arrived at this same embarrassing
realization. The great thirteenth century commentator, Dnyeshwar Maharaj,
paraphrases how he feels:
Arjuna says to Shri
to everything whether it has form or not,
because You dwell in it. Again and again, O Lord of the world, I bow to you….
Dwelling in the heart of every one, you pervade everything…. Therefore, You are
near every one at all times. You are All. I have been stupid, and, not knowing
this greatness of Yours, have treated You with familiarity. I have used nectar
for washing the floor…. I found a mountain of precious stones, but broke them
up, to prepare a parapet, and I used the wood of the most valuable tree to make
a fencing round my farm. I have wasted my intimacy with You, O Krishna, for
worthless objects. Even to-day in this mundane warfare, I have made You, Who
are the embodiment of Para Brahma, my charioteer…. O Lord of the world, we have
used you for our petty purposes. You are the final goal of the Samadhi, which
Yogis are trying to reach, and yet I have behaved badly. You are the origin of
the universe, and yet I crack jokes with You. When I came to Your palace and
You omitted the usual formalities, I was upset. I have taken liberties with
You. I have turned my back on You. I have challenged You to a wrestling bout. I
have fallen out with You over a game of chess. I have asked You to give me
valuable things. I even tried to instruct You, though You are all-knowing. The
extent of my faults knows no bounds. With my hands on Your feet… I now declare
that I did all this through ignorance. To Your invitations I demurred through
pride…. The rivers collect dirty water and move toward the ocean, but the ocean
receives them all the same….
me from my errors, O Lord. I did not realize that
You were the benefactor of the world. I even resented such respect being paid
to You. You have allowed me to be praised in assemblies, when all the praises
should go to You. I have spoken of You carelessly in the past. I have done this
through ignorance and error, and now I turn to You for being saved. (Gita
The passage displays the kind of sincere realization
sweeps outmoded attitudes aside and paves the way for clearer thinking. We can
see here a prefiguring of ecological awareness, too, centuries ahead of the
to the uncommon epithet “O Unpredicable One,” the falsity of predication is a
concept found in the philosophy of Narayana Guru, along with a smattering of
earlier philosophers. Verses 41 and 42 of his Hundred Verses
of Self-Instruction deal with it specifically, and
his disciple Nataraja Guru expanded the idea in much of his work. Briefly, in
the sentence “This is a pot,” ‘This’ is the subject and ‘pot’ is the predicate.
Under examination the ‘This’ turns out to be highly mysterious, like the
Absolute itself. We only know what This is when we define it with a predicate
such as pot. Pot satisfies us because it is a specific thing we can recognize. We
live in a world of predications of the mysterious This, and content ourselves
with just the predicates. We don’t bother looking for the subject, the This.
Here Arjuna recognizes the Absolute as unpredicable, meaning it can’t be
adequately defined by any predication, any definition. In fact it would be
absurd to even try, though of course humans love nothing better than to make more
or less honorable attempts to pin it down.
word Nataraja Guru translates as unpredicable, aprameya,
means “immeasurable, unlimited, unfathomable; not
proved.” Even more interesting, it is the negation of prameya, which adds in addition “that of which a correct notion
should be formed, an object of certain knowledge, the thing to be proved or the
subject to be discussed.” In other words, if we form a correct notion of the
Absolute it is no longer the Absolute. If we are certain about it we are
certainly deluded. It does not require proof and is impossible to prove anyway,
so perhaps it shouldn’t even be talked about. We definitely should not strut
around brimming with confidence that our particular predication is the only
right one, cocksure it exceeds everyone else’s and spoiling for a fight to
are the Father of the world, of the moving and unmoving; You are to be
reverenced by this world, and are the Supreme Guru; none is Your equal; how
then could there be one greater than You, even in the three worlds, O One of
reverential attitude is the best insurance against developing a bloated ego
from the kind of transcendental experience Arjuna has just undergone.
Throughout the Gita the arrow of interest and devotion is turned away from the
ego toward the Absolute, which helps minimize the coloration of imaginary
beliefs that so often confuse the disciple. Krishna began the instruction by
trying to pry Arjuna out of his socially indoctrinated mindset, but there is
always a significant remnant no matter how thorough the training, as the next
verse will demonstrate. It is supremely difficult to distinguish between valid
experience and ego-tainted experience. Since the disciple cannot attain
self-awareness without a measure of prejudice, the assistance of a guru or
therapist is essential.
a similar reverential attitude, Narayana Guru wrote, in his mystical poem Svanubhavagiti, Verse 33:
Oh Gracious Lord, your
revealed to me by your
And that revelation
is a precious
scripture to me.
The blessedness of
flanked on either
side by darkness and
Oh Meaning of Meaning
dancing in my
And verse 63:
knowing who the
you, so many here,
astray, confused with their
who only hear half the message tend to become exclusive and possessive about
their concepts of the Absolute. Bookstores are flush with pretentious tomes
proclaiming this or that certitude, which will be obsolete by next season.
Half-baked thinkers insist on grilling people about their beliefs, probing for
disqualifying ideas and sneering at perceived weaknesses, in the desperate hope
that by denigrating others they are somehow elevating themselves. But Krishna
has made it abundantly clear that our beliefs and even our actions are wholly
irrelevant. They are impediments to realization, not catalysts for it. By
abasing the other you abase yourself, and vice versa. The urge to repress the
other as a projection of latent self-hatred leads to all levels of conflict, up
to and including “holy” war.
is a great blessing to realize our limitations and learn humility, as Arjuna is
now doing. A life of bombast is constrictive and binding, after all is said and
done, and likely a mask for deep insecurities. Spiritual evolution is much
gentler and more peaceful, and is not afraid to include compassion and support
for others. This reveals yet another paradox: that by accepting our faults we
grow stronger, but by flaunting our strengths we undermine ourselves.
bowing down and prostrating my body, I seek Your grace, O Adorable Lord; (it is
but proper that) You should bear with me, as father to son, as friend to
friend, as lover to beloved.
Krishna is not capable of preventing Arjuna from lying down at his feet, no
matter how often he has insisted that he stand up. Some cultural habits are too
deeply engrained for even a god to overcome! As the German polymath Friedrich
Schiller wryly put it, “Against stupidity even the Gods struggle in vain.”
Arjuna isn’t really stupid, only sincerely chastened, and his prostration
symbolically counteracts his former egotism. Just this once it has a role to
play. Ritualistically continued, it would turn into just another tool of the
ego to prove his holiness.
this section Arjuna is rapidly surrendering his exaggerated sense of self in
exchange for an open and guileless state that is much more amenable to a
spiritual lightness of being. Like a snake shedding its skin, his old attitudes
are falling away to make room for a much more expansive person. He is seeing
clearly how his previous attitudes were like prisons in which he languished,
and is renouncing them one by one. As Socrates well knew, penetrating
self-examination is crucial to making our life worth living.
realization that energizes a serious reassessment of our lives is that each of
us is little more than a dust mote in an infinite cosmos, and no human or group
of humans has more than a slim grasp on the full implications of that cosmos. Spiritual
striving certainly broadens one’s amplitude, but there is a real danger when
merging into the Absolute that the individual retains a sense of self that is
then expanded beyond all sensible limits. Individual empowerment acquired
through spiritual effort can lead to megalomania or spiritual egotism if it is
not counterbalanced with a commensurate humility.
vision he has had has put Arjuna in his place as a mere speck in a vast
incomprehensible maelstrom. Being aware of his finitude, he is less likely to
get a swelled head. This teaches us that it is a valuable tool to continue to
think of the Absolute as being more than we are, even when theoretically there
is no difference. Whatever we do as individuals, without exception, is limited.
While retaining our individuality we can only merge in an abstract sense, and
if we were truly merged our individuality, centered in the ego, would not be functional
for the duration of the experience.
is of more than passing interest that Arjuna lists three archetypal,
dialectical relationships that define his discipleship with Krishna. They can
be thought of as parent and child (in the modern idiom), friends, and lovers,
all of which are aspects of a guru-disciple bond. Arjuna continues to employ
his dialectical wisdom here, expressing each of the three as matched pairs. The
first indicates the profound respect and deference accorded to a guru early in
the approach, not unlike a child deferring to their caregiver. This progresses
to mutual respect and a more equal status as the friendship blossoms. The
culmination occurs with the dissolution of the apparent separation of guru and
disciple in unity, which Arjuna compares to two lovers merging into a single
the first pair represents a vertical polarity, the second a horizontal polarity,
and the third a perfect integration of them, like the point of intersection of
the two axes. Yoga is the gathering together of horizontal and vertical factors
seekers, who would rather remain circumspect than bare their souls, are content
to maintain a more distant pose and so remain at the first stage, which
insulates them from the fearsome possibilities a guru represents. If a seeker
is very fortunate they might progress to a genuine friendship with their guru,
which offers many more possibilities for personal growth. Only a few go beyond
friendship to enter the true mind-meld of spiritual lovers. Arjuna has now
experienced all three stages, and he is wide open to receive the wisdom that
Krishna will now begin to transmit to him, heart to heart. In a very few words
the Gita has beautifully outlined perhaps the most profound and important
relationship humans are capable of.
45 & 46) I am glad having seen what has
never been seen
by anyone before, and my mind is troubled with fear; O God, be pleased to show
me that very form, O God of gods, O Abode of the Universe;
I want to see You even so, diademmed, with mace
in Your hand; assume that very form with four arms, O Thousand-Armed, O One of
our psyches may plunge into a total, unimaginable vision. There are no words
linked with memories to describe the immediacy of it. The tsunami of life
sweeping from birth to death in a tremendous tide arrests our everyday mind in
amazement. The Absolute is the Forbidden Territory that only the brave or the
foolish dare to enter (three cheers for fools!). Society has warned us against
trying to gain admittance. Even a great warrior like Arjuna becomes terrified
on the doorstep, the fear momentarily outweighing all conscious assessment of
the beneficence and beauty beyond the portal.
sense of self we retain shrinks back from the black hole of the void at the
center of our personal galaxy, revealed in the vision of the Real. The
operative emotion is stark terror. Since we take our life thoroughly for
granted, and have been spoon-fed endless sweet fairy tales about where it is
headed, it is a serious shock when our individuality appears to be on the verge
Arjuna is now begging to be returned to the more or less conventional image of
the god Vishnu with which he began his trip, so he can pigeonhole his
experience and be soothed by something he can wrap his mind around. When he
begs Krishna to show him a familiar form that he can latch on to, the vision
comes to a close. There is no going back, and no standing pat either. It is not
uncommon to want to hold onto the glories of a psychedelic excursion, but as
the medicine wears off they fade away like dew before the sun.
is important to notice that Krishna does not honor Arjuna’s request, and
doesn’t even go so far as to acknowledge it. This is a powerful symbolic
gesture with many implications, well worth pondering. A few of its meanings
are: clinging to religious iconography (often called idolatry) is antithetical
to a spiritual state of mind; Vishnu is himself a symbol of something without
form, and thus is only a poetic image; Arjuna’s desire is a sign of weakness in
someone who is now supposed to be strong enough to stand on his own two feet;
we should always take things as they are and not long for something ‘other’.
Clearly, worlds are communicated by Krishna ignoring Arjuna’s plea.
In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl
Jung writes of his own near death experience and the outgrowths of it, which
are remarkably like Arjuna’s experience in meaning if not in shape. Time is an
important factor in both visions, with the compression into the now of past,
present and future. It is accompanied by an oceanic “high” in which the detritus
of life is painfully stripped away. Arjuna begs for its reinstatement, but Jung
was eager to be rid of it, as he could see how it had hampered him. He
reentered his body only because his doctor came to him in the vision as he was
heading for the exit and brought him back. Jung sensed that this would mean the
doctor would have to die in his place, and in fact the day he left his sickbed
the doctor entered his own and never left it.
Jung learned from “leaving his body” parallels many of the Gita’s teachings,
and when a similar conclusion is reached from two very different approaches, it
lends weight to them. Jung shares with Arjuna the life-affirming insights that
can be gained from venturing near death. As an example, Jung writes:
Something else, too,
came to me
from my illness. I might formulate it as an affirmation of things as they are:
an unconditional “yes” to that which is, without subjective
protests—-acceptance of the conditions of existence as I see them and
understand them, acceptance of my own nature, as I happen to be [Vedantins
would call it Jung’s dharma]. At the beginning of the illness I had the feeling
that there was something wrong with my attitude, and that I was to some extent
responsible for the mishap. But when one follows the path of individuation,
when one lives one’s own life, one must take mistakes into the bargain; life
would not be complete without them. There is no guarantee—-not for a single
moment—-that we will not fall into error or stumble into deadly peril. We may think
there is a sure road. But that would be the road of death. Then nothing happens
any longer—-at any rate, not the right things. Anyone who takes the sure road
is as good as dead. (p. 297.)
“sure road” is marked out by religious dogma and rigidly conventional beliefs,
but to the extent that these diverge from reality they fail to protect us from
the consequences of our folly. And they diverge a lot. Whether artistic,
religious, sporting or whatever, rituals and beliefs serve not so much to
enlighten but to insulate the votary from waking up to the immediacy of life,
from looking outside normal boundaries for better solutions. Prescribed
behavior, detailed codes of conduct, unnatural environments, repetition of the
expected—-these all serve to protect the fearful adult child from the
terrifying flames of freedom.
an example, music can be powerfully transformative, but people often go to concerts
and even the symphony—that holiest of holies—as a ritual: drinks first, nice
clothes, chitchat in the lobby, clap now, what piece is next, let's go home.
Just like church, not much listening happens except in the hellfire segments.
The Gita recognizes the feeling that once we catch the merest glimpse of the
Absolute we want to retreat as fast as possible back to familiar images, in
hopes that all our comfortable activities and attitudes will keep us safe. They
don’t. As Jung says, they keep us dead.
ties in to the role of churches, governments and the like as substitute
parental figures. Their self-anointed task is to comfort us and relieve us of
the anxiety of being fully human and alive. We are trained to keep the lid on
everything, which makes us so much less than we could be! But being fearful
children in our hearts, we will lash out at anyone who suggests lifting the
lid; even nail them to a cross. We prefer to remain in darkness, even if we are
secretly miserable and terrified, since it's familiar and bears the seal of
approval. Odd isn't it?
what I call my Expanding Boxes Theory, as we go through a life of creative
exploration, we gradually expand our awareness. At certain moments we notice we
are confined in a kind of psychological box, and as we continue to grow we fill
it up. Like a chick inside an egg, we press harder and harder against our rigid
container until it breaks open. For a time afterwards we experience a soaring
sense of relief and increased freedom, mixed with a measure of awe and fear,
and undergo rapid expansion. But after awhile we begin to notice that we are
just in a bigger box, that there are still limits, and soon we will begin to confront
our next set of constraints. I imagine the series of boxes goes on forever, so
we should not mistake relative freedom for absolute liberation. And like a
chick trying to crawl back inside its shattered egg, there is no going back to
the previous box, except through a ridiculous charade of self-deception.
My favor, Arjuna, this supreme form has been shown, by union with the Self,
made up of light, universal, endless, primal, never before seen by any other
repeats the claim from verse 6 that what Arjuna has just been through is
unique, never before seen by anyone. It sounds like he’s saying that no one
else is capable of attaining the same level of experience, but it would be
absurd for the Gita to aver that only a single person—already dead in our own
distant past—could attain a vision of the Absolute. That would imply there is
no hope for any of us! What is actually meant is that while there is a general
correspondence between every person’s realization, the particular attributes of
it are unique to the individual, and are unique even each time an individual
has such an experience. Since it is a baffling paradox that the universal must
always come to our notice in a specific guise, we should take a close look at
off, Arjuna’s vision occurred by Krishna’s favor. This means a guru or at least
some type of additional assistance is an essential part of what has just taken
place, what the Gita calls a vision of the supreme form. Soma itself is one
kind of favor. Whatever the circumstances, the bipolar connection between
seeker and sought achieves a far deeper intuitive realization than any linear
thought process of an isolated individual, as has already been made eminently
clear. We should remember that back in verses 3 and 4, Arjuna specifically
requested a vision of the Absolute. His reaching out for knowledge is met by
the guru’s grace in supplying it, and the resulting fusion produces a
superlative condition. Verse 47 specifically states that the vision arises from
union with the Self, that is, the union of a seeker with the universal ground
of being, which often appears as a guru figure.
string of lovely adjectives, “made up of light, universal, endless, primal,” is
as good a description of the indescribable as is we can hope for. Light is the
tissue of consciousness, and it fills all space (‘universal’) and time (‘endless’),
as the primal One. This universal ground is integral to everyone. Therefore the
last line of the verse must mean that Arjuna’s vision is from his own unique
perspective, and no one will see it exactly the way he did, yet it is available
to everyone as their very nature. As it manifests, the Absolute is non-static,
so its apparent form will be different from moment to moment. And no matter how
pure the interpretation by an individual mind, it will inevitably be colored to
a degree. In other words, every time someone has a vision of the Absolute it
will be “never before seen,” and by no one else. And as noted before, the
vision will be shaped to a significant extent by the set and setting, by each
person’s frame of mind and local environmental factors. Every vision is a
fabulous amalgam of temporal and eternal—-individual and universal—-elements.
Gita’s open-ended tolerance is a natural corollary of this kind of
understanding. When you know the Absolute as the core of every being, you
naturally love the good in them and have compassion for their shortcomings. You
realize everyone’s insight is absolutely unique, so there is no arbitrary
division of “right” as opposed to “wrong” perspectives. We are all working to
upgrade our understanding, and there is plenty of room for improvement. The
only thing that really matters is to extricate ourselves from unwisdom and move
toward wisdom, and the more support we offer each other, the more rapid the
progress we will all make.
Einstein’s relativity equations indicate that at the speed of light time is
annulled. Since light fills the universe, a journey from one end to the other
as light would take no time at all. It appears the ancient rishis were aware of
this in their own way, long before the invention of modern ciphering.
by the Vedas, sacrifices, nor by study, nor by gifts, nor by ritual, nor by
severe austerities, can I possibly be seen in such a form in the human world,
by anyone other than you.
Gita categorically denies the value of religion, any form of ritual activity,
or any scheme whatever, in attaining the ultimate vision. There’s nothing
equivocal here at all. There is absolutely no way to plot a route to a goal in
this business. The Absolute is far more mysterious than we can ever imagine. If
conceived of as a goal it recedes indefinitely.
inner and outer dialectics of yoga, conceived in a total context of the
Absolute and applied in ever fresh ways to present circumstances, all guided
and realized through bipolar interaction with a guru, which can be anything that
brings enlightenment, pretty well sums up the Gita’s recommendation for how to
live. Those espousing formulas and systems, while they may be quite admirable,
fall outside the scope of wisdom in its highest conception.
virtually certain that no “ultimate” vision is possible. All are in some way
limited, shaped by the perceiver. But any significant enlarging event—-which is
usually transmitted by a guru to a disciple, and just as usually inaccurately
described as Ultimate—-will flood our souls with light, called love, and we are
transformed. The omnipresent quantum vacuum, as an example, has the energy of
many nuclear explosions per cubic centimeter taking place continuously. Yet
this is not something we perceive. We couldn’t possibly handle that much power
without damping it down with many layers of insulation. Still, we can know it
is there mathematically, supporting the universe. Mental insulation, by the
way, is called ignorance in Vedanta.
everyday visions can be compared to the integers, 1, 2, 3, and so on, while the
Ultimate resembles infinity. The number 753 looks like infinity to a 3, even
though it isn’t, because it’s so much bigger. A 3 cannot possibly contain that
large a number. But compared to infinity, 753 is essentially the same size as
3. However you conceive infinity or the Absolute, the proof is in the pudding.
If the ideation makes you more loving and wise, it is valuable. If it divides
you from your fellows or causes confusion it is false on some level.
are welcome to have such transitory experiences as we are fortunate enough to
encounter, but then we should move onward and upward. It is unhealthy to focus
too much on any one partial vision, which is usually tainted with projections
and fanciful imaginings. Cherish them and honor them, then they must be left
behind so we can continue on our way. After all, we can’t make the visions
happen just by wishing, and if we could that would be more evidence that they
were only projections. A true mystic just opens his heart to the onrushing wave;
he doesn’t try to build a wave from spare parts lying around the house. A woman
gives birth to a child, but she has no idea how to put one together from
scratch. Something beyond us is at work here. We have only to relinquish our
petty fixations to allow the Beyond to permeate our being with Truth, Beauty
is a perfect place to add some timeless words of wisdom from Lao Tzu. From the
Tao Te Ching, Gia-fu Feng’s translation:
A truly good man is not aware of his goodness,
And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good,
And is therefore not good.
A truly good man does nothing,
Yet leaves nothing undone.
A foolish man is always doing,
Yet much remains to be done.
When a truly kind man does something, he leaves
When a just man does something, he leaves a
great deal to be
When a disciplinarian does something and no
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce
Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty,
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping
It is the beginning of folly.
Therefore the truly great man dwells on what
is real and not
what is on the surface,
On the fruit and not the flower.
Therefore accept the one and reject the other.
What is awkwardly called in the next-to-last
“knowledge of the future,” Ursula Le Guin translates as opinion. Students of
the Gita might prefer the word ‘expectation’.
not distressed, do not be confused, having seen such a terrible form of Mine;
free from fear, mentally comforted, again behold that very form of Mine
saying this to Arjuna tells us that his disciple is distressed, confused and
fearful. The immediate aftereffect of an intense “trip” is very often massive
chaos, which can be very upsetting. The familiar categories and frameworks have
been eradicated. It’s like being returned temporarily to an infantile,
pre-conceptual state. However it has been accessed, the state de-energizes the
familiar, defense-mechanism laden persona, leaving the seeker open and
vulnerable. At this stage the guru may well act like a doting mother in
comforting and caring for the recently reborn disciple.
my guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati was staying with Ramana Maharshi, he had a
mind-blowing experience induced by the Maharshi where he regressed to before he
was born, and even before he was conceived. Afterwards the normally impersonal
Maharshi treated him with exceptional kindness, easing his reentry into the
world. As Nitya tells it in Love and
tapped on my
shoulder, and I came back to my senses. The Maharshi was no longer before me,
and the people in the hall were also gone. Everyone had left for the dining
hall. I was invited to come and eat. I walked as if in a dream. To my utter
surprise, when I got to the dining hall I saw that the leaf on Maharshi’s right
hand was not claimed by anyone. I was asked to sit there. When food was served,
Maharshi looked at my leaf as if to ascertain that every item served to him was
also being given to me. (142)
modern psychotherapeutic techniques intentionally mimic birth to take the
seeker to the very depths of their soul. It is generally true that the younger
we are, the easier it is to effect changes in our neurochemistry. We tend to
lose flexibility as we age, but this isn’t an immutable law, as with St. Bob
Dylan’s line in the song My Back Pages,
“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” You can always evolve if
you put your mind to it. But a little regression might facilitate the progression.
stable mental orientation will redevelop at a rapid rate in a healthy psyche,
but its new perspectives should be fresh and free of at least some of the
glitches that plagued the old outlook. Then it is a true rebirth. The idea of
being “born again” is used extremely loosely nowadays, but absent a
soul-shattering experience like Arjuna’s it is merely a smug conceit, paying
egotistical lip-service to the real thing.
pure experience of the Absolute transcends words and even the thoughts and
concepts that are represented by words. It is invaluable to have a gentle
program to help with “coming down” or “getting back to earth.” Otherwise the
aeronaut—-temporarily perhaps a grinning idiot—-is vulnerable to manipulation
by people and events. When the One Beyond has been sighted, the bliss is so
intense that everything is trusted to be beneficent. It’s impossible to be
critical during a time when there are no thoughts, as well as later on when
every thought is immediately offset by its opposite in a global perspective.
Moreover, it would be tragic to caution a person who is brimming with love to
stop feeling it and guard themselves. They’ll want to enjoy the sensation to
the hilt. At the same time the guide has to make sure there’s no one around who
might fill their mind with poisonous ideas, because they will be hard to
dislodge once the bliss wears off.
hippies launched into space by LSD in the 1960s became famous not so much for
their insights and creativity but for their incoherence. Obviously the media
always prefers to focus on failures rather than successes, but even so, not too
many found meaningful interpretations of their experiences. In the conceptual vacuum
and outright hostility they encountered, they cast about for whatever was close
to hand. A fortunate few found teachers able to empathetically help shape their
visions, and others banded together in communes for mutual support. But quite a
few were lured into various religions, and many worshipped the drugs
themselves, mistaking the medium for the message. Or the musicians that
accompanied the trips. Anything but an unadorned vision of Truth. It seems that
under social pressure we are doomed to make haste to clothe our idealistic visions
in some kind of structure. Holding ten thousand suns worth of loving bliss in
our hearts is just too intense, especially in a society that demands we
suppress our light and be serious, so we can get a “useful” job.
bears repeating that it’s very important that Krishna does not grant Arjuna’s
request to appear in conventional religious guise. He goes directly back to
being the ordinary friend and charioteer he has been all along. There is no
exaggerated imagery being peddled, nothing that isn’t universal. Arjuna’s
vision has it’s own meaning to him alone, and its value will be greater the
less he repackages it in standard issue boxes. Krishna is just a normal guy, a
regular human being, and he demonstrates for us just how amazing that is. And
like him, we carry the Absolute in our very core. So when he ignores Arjuna’s
plea, it’s as though Krishna is teasing him, saying, with a twinkle in his eye,
“Wow, so I looked like Vishnu to you, eh? That’s hilarious. What a trip!”
noted earlier, Krishna’s return to his ordinary guise also reflects the fact
that in reality there is no going back to false ideals once they are seen for
what they are. If innocence is lost it can never be fully regained. If you
can’t handle this, you shouldn’t ask a guru—human or medicinal—to guide you to
thus spoken to Arjuna, Krishna again showed His own form, and the Great Self,
becoming mild in form, consoled him who was terrified.
narrator returns briefly to add emphasis to this important moment. Krishna is
once again seen as an ordinary mortal, who as a guru is soothing the newly rejuvenated
disciple about to begin a new life. The apparent fierceness of his former state
is counterbalanced now by a loving and nurturing one.
religions have sabotaged their own usefulness by portraying their central
character as wholly different from everyone else. The very value of a saint or
other “sacred” being is that they demonstrate what is possible for all people to
achieve. Once they are perceived as being beyond imitation, the seeker must
resign in despair, content to stand hat in hand as a beggar at the gate of the
divine realm. Vedanta and its Gita maintain that each of us is the Absolute
incarnate, (tat tvam asi, “That thou
art!”) and our potential is infinite. We are not to wait for someone else to
take steps for our betterment; we are the captains of our soul. So Krishna is
just some regular fellow. Popular tales picturing him as a god are mostly later
additions, or I should say subtractions. Actually, they are wonderful teaching
stories, but they should not be mistaken for literal depictions.
Arjuna, all of us arrive at adult age in a state of shock. We are mentally and
emotionally hampered by the traumas associated with changing our address from a
womb to a battlefield. In response, many of us have the notion that if we can
only control our inner turmoil and achieve a veneer of quietude, we will have
reached the spiritual state.
at all. In most cases the “spiritual” technique initially adopted by a
traumatized person is intended to suppress the inner turmoil with great effort,
but like a pressure cooker the steam builds up until it bursts out through some
psychological “relief valve.” It is easy to go mad when this happens, or wind
up in jail.
acceptable outlets for the energy that we should direct toward our own
enlightenment are non-psychedelics drugs, entertainment, hard work, and the
like. Basically, these are more distracting than enlightening, and with all the
excellent entertainment available these days, it is possible to remain
distracted for a whole lifetime.
contrast, real spirituality shrugs off distractions to attend to a dynamic
expression of our inner tendencies, along with a careful dousing of our
excessive instinctual fires. In order to foster this, a guru will sometimes
trick a disciple into losing control early in their relationship, so that any
pent up energy is blown off and its traumatic sources stand revealed. Again,
there is danger in this, because the guru or therapist can appear to be
hostile, so the disciple may draw back, still highly charged with psychoses and
neuroses. Freud’s image is exactly right: even though you have a terrible
toothache, as the dentist approaches with his pliers to pull it out you can’t
help but push him away. Our self-protective instinct is that strong.
must develop faith in the guru early on, and anticipate being taught in the
midst of extreme anguish part of the time. We would much prefer to retreat to a
safe place where we could regain our mask of stability, but that would be to
abandon the quest. Instead, we should redirect the energy released into a
search of our soul.
true spiritual calm comes only after weathering the challenges of many such
storms. When we have been cured of our “toothaches” the guru will set aside the
pliers and return to normal compassion and kindness.
is the last of the extended or exalted verses, signifying that the trip with
its visions has now come completely to an end. Only a handful of these special
verses remain, all in Chapter XV.
again this Your mild human form, I am now calm, with my mind restored to its
has one final verse to reassure us that his trip is at last truly over, and he
feels like himself again. Sort of.
by his guru, things superficially appear as they once were, but they will never
really be the same. As many an inner traveler has discovered, you can come back
down afterwards, but your relation to the world is irrevocably changed. The
experience is a kind of “brain boost” that imparts insights that cannot be
completely ignored. New neural connections have been forged and old ones
decommissioned. Orientation with the world is from a broadly enhanced
perspective, and a hum of bliss and peacefulness persists long after the vision
ends. The remainder of the Gita is aimed at reintegrating such an experience
into normal life in the most salubrious manner. It will take all seven chapters
to lead Arjuna to the point that he can once again function optimally as an
embodied being in a relativistic world. At the very end, though, he will
receive his graduate diploma, with Krishna granting him his full freedom to
make his own decisions.
vision is only one part of the whole story of his spiritual apprenticeship. A
life suffused with the energy and insight of the Absolute is the Yoga the Gita
extols as the highest achievement of human endeavor. The horizontal and the
vertical, actualities and ideals, are to be harmonized and integrated, not
viewed in isolation as mutually exclusive. The world is not merely material or
merely spiritual, it is both together. The full magnificence of the Gita’s
presentation cannot be adequately appreciated in words. One can only incline
inwardly and be grateful to whatever fortunate process brought it to our attention,
while resolving to take from it all the wisdom in our capacity. Aum.
his mind restored to a natural state is essential for Arjuna’s ongoing
spiritual progress. He will have to be absolutely clear-headed to appreciate
the high ideals Krishna will be showing him. One tragedy of the psychedelic era
was that many people mistook the medium for the message, and kept taking the
drugs over and over, as if that was the key to enlightenment. The stress on the
mind and body is too much, and many became burn outs or misfits. The Gita is
here reminding us of what all ancient societies knew very well: that these
medicines are to be used sparingly to open the doors of perception, but not as
a permanent place to hang out. We can learn much from them about who we are and
where we are going, but then we still have it to do, in real life and not just
in our fantasies.
of the principle stumbling blocks to spiritual flowering is misunderstanding of
the nature of reality. After an intense experience like Arjuna’s, where your
core beliefs have been swept away by a flood of new awareness, it is easy to
become distracted about the meaning of your life. It takes time to regain your
normal balance. In the immediate aftermath, two potential hazards loom large.
While the well-guided disciple will be assisted to stay centered in neutrality,
there is a temptation to either become megalomaniacal or its opposite, to dwell
in utter self-abnegation. The shocked psyche either identifies with the
overwhelming vision and imagines itself as God, or it imagines an unbridgeable
gap between it and God, which means it is nothing, a useless appendage. In
fact, these poles are a dialectic, or the horns of a major dilemma, which must
be resolved with a healthy synthesis of the two contrary ideas, neither of
which is true by itself.
only met one or two obvious megalomaniacs in my life, and there is nothing for
it but to run away from them as fast as possible. But I know quite a number of
the second type, the self-deprecators. I believe they are much more common due
to our drug-saturated and traumatized social environment, abetted by an
education system designed to undermine individuality. Regardless, these friends
have become fixated on the belief that everything is false, everything is
meaningless, and they are worthless. In consequence, their lives have become
dead-ended due to lack of any motivating value vision. Both types, the
grandiose and the pusillanimous, can be extremely cynical because everybody
they meet appears to be living a lie, while only they are holding to truth. Or
maybe not even they are, no one is. This provides a negative ego reinforcement
that is very difficult to get out from under, particularly since all outside
advice is seen to be either hostile or foolish.
is here assuring us that with the loving friendship of his guru, he has avoided
this trap. He will wrestle with it philosophically in the next chapter, but he
is holding fast to unity at the moment it is most essential, as he comes back
to earth. I think we can safely predict an excellent outcome.
form of Mine which you have seen is very hard to see indeed; even the gods ever
aspire to behold this form.
of us have experienced powerful fear at some point in our life, and a very
common response is to immerse ourself in trivialities, the “hamster wheel” of
life, in order to try to drive the fear out of our mind. Because of this, the
social milieu consists of an endless series of tasks and pursuits to distract
us from the fear of our demise. If you were going to hide truth to keep it safe
from discovery, this might well be the place to put it: right behind the fear.
Then nearly everything we did would lead us away from where we most needed to
15 of the Isha Upanishad reads: “The entrance to Truth is closed with a golden
disc. That, you, Oh Nourisher, open (so that I), established in Truth and Law,
may see.” The metaphor is that the sun—the Source of all life—is hidden
directly behind a sun-like image. This is by far the best place to hide the
sun, and is at the same time a perfect symbol of how our minds substitute
conceptions for reality. We become enamored with ideas in themselves and stop
searching for what they refer to. No wonder the vision of Truth is so rare!
is amusing that the gods ever aspire to have these visions also, which reminds
us that they are partial beings just as we are. In ancient times in India the
moon was poetically imagined to be a barrel of soma juice. The waning of the
moon indicated that the gods were drinking the soma, which is their favorite
beverage. After they polished it off, it would be replenished while they were
recovering from their intoxication. We like to imagine that gods are all-wise,
but apparently they like to get a good cosmic buzz on, just like we do.
as we well know, the soma juice itself is to be drunk by whosoever wants to
catch a glimpse of the elusive form of the Absolute, with its infinite
varieties of expression.
by worship, nor by austerity, nor by gifts, nor by sacrifice, can I be seen in
this form as you have seen Me.
48 is repeated for emphasis, and to set up the final declaration in the
following verse. Krishna has to say it twice, because this idea is resisted
with all the might and main of the many vested interests that peddle salvation.
Not by doing anything other than entering into the Absolute does one attain the
Absolute. All steps on the path are merely steps on paths, valid in their own
right, for exactly what they are, but not leading anywhere beyond themselves.
This is a key tenet of Advaita Vedanta, or nondualism.
four of these categories of futile striving can be lumped together under the
title “proper religious behavior.” As seekers we want to know what we should do, what’s the right activity
Many religions purvey the idea that by being good and doing what we are told to
do, we will obtain admission to heaven or some similar exalted state hereafter.
Krishna is unequivocal that whatever the benefit of being good—and it is
certainly salubrious for living in the world—it doesn’t bring the vision of the
religious folk are very fond of their embroidered imaginative heaven worlds,
and they find a way to color even the spare and scientific Gita with exotic notions
that are quite foreign to it. In case Arjuna has such tendencies, Krishna gives
him a second chance to grasp the baldly stated case that the Absolute is beyond
all programs. While religion is tolerated as appropriate for some, and good as
far as it goes, that doesn’t mean it is actually efficacious for attaining the
highest. Narayana Guru famously said that whatever a man’s religion, it was
good insofar as it made him a better person. Period.
is of more than passing interest that soma ingestion is not included in the
list of ineffective actions, however. It may well be that a psychedelic vision
is indeed what Chapter XI describes for us. If so, Krishna’s caveat applies to
it also. Soma provides a vision, an image of the Absolute, but continuing to
take it after you have learned its lessons is a waste of time and will keep you
stuck in a dream world. Soma can at least provide beginner training in
one-pointed devotion, which the next two verses spell out as the way that
really does work. In the impossible tautology of spiritual realization, you
become the Absolute just by being it.
by devotion that excludes all else I can be known, and in principle entered
that excludes all else” could also be called absorption or one-pointed
attention. Krishna is speaking here of a perfect bipolarity between the
Absolute and the devotee; anything tacked on by way of conditioned imagery can
only detract from the direct reciprocal relationship. Regarding full-fledged
devotion Nataraja Guru says, “There is always implied in such instances an
identity or unity of a very thorough character as between the seeker and the
wisdom of the Absolute. Such references by no means suggest the weak variety of
bhakti (devotion) which mostly
consists of clashing cymbals, bell-ringings and parrot-like muttering of mantrams (sacred syllables). But of
course such practices have their justification, in so far as they displace
are two directions to the devotion Krishna counsels here. One is the
straightforward dedication to the principle of the Absolute itself. The other
is an ongoing effort to exclude extraneous factors. If we can shrug off all
trivial imagery as it arises, it will allow us to occasionally take a peek
behind the golden disc blocking truth. This does not mean we should avoid all imagery though, only that which is
irrelevant to our development.
weakness of worshipful forms of devotion is that they are aimed at fixed mental
images such as rigidly conceived gods. The Absolute is an ever-living reality,
access to which is blocked by all such conceptions. The Gita presents yoga, the
uniting of opposites, as an unadorned and non-static method of bipolarity with
the ever new Absolute.
a similar analogy, Narayana Guru, in verse 9 of his Hundred
Verses of Self-Instruction, proffers the image of a
contemplative sitting in meditation under a tree in the jungle. Clinging vines
are growing up the tree, and these reach out and try to ensnare the yogi, but
he is ever alert and keeps himself free of their clutches. So there is a
twofold effort involved: contemplative devotion to the Absolute and a simultaneous
devotion to avoiding entanglements.
through my stack of Gita translations, Nataraja Guru’s is the only one that
reads “in principle entered into.” The rest say simply “entered into.” The word
tattvena is ignored. Since the
Absolute is always here, we are already in it and so entering from outside is
impossible. Entering “in principle” acquiesces to this fact. The word also
means ‘truly’ or ‘in truth’, which does find its way into some of the
translations. A veiled meaning comes in reference to tat
tvam (asi), That thou (art). Only when you realize you
are the Absolute, have you fully entered
is also the subject of the next chapter, which follows immediately on the heels
of Arjuna’s vision. These two last verses provide an artful transition, as well
as an assertion of just how crucial enlightened devotion is.
who does actions that are Mine, whose supreme is Myself, whose devotion is to
Me, devoid of attachment, free from enmity to all beings—-he reaches Me,
time you think “I am doing this because…” or even more subtly, “I am doing
this,” an element of duality is injected into the activity. While this is
perfectly fine in ordinary circumstances, the Gita advocates the
artistic—-sometimes called spiritual—-temperament, where unitive action is essential.
The musician, dancer, meditator or tripper doesn’t have time to stop and think dualistic
thoughts. They are intrusive and disrupt the flow. Adequate preparations having
been made, the artist must dive with the whole being into what is being
performed. Only then will they be able to express real expertise.
in mind that Me and Mine refer to the Absolute, we can retranslate this verse
who does Absolutist actions, in other words, he who performs unitive activity
as instructed in chapters II-V;
whose philosophical orientation is centered around the harmonizing factor of
who can attune completely with the Absolute, and not become bogged down by
who is free to go psychologically wherever the winds of the Absolute might blow
who sees the Absolute in all beings, therefore becoming surpassingly kind;
is the model devotee who attains the Absolute.