people imagine that wisdom comes from memorizing a program and following it; as
a matter of fact this is the opposite of wisdom. Wisdom synthesis is a way of
opening up to our inner genius, which has its own trajectory that is only
impeded by attempts to fit it into known channels. It is the very energy that
causes us to burst our bonds and expand our consciousness, always latent within
us, but suppressed by our conditioning.
we have noted before, Upanishadic philosophy includes a structural image like a
cross, with the vertical parameter representing pure or abstract wisdom, and
the horizontal parameter practical, specific knowledge, among other things.
While these are to be distinguished, they are also to be reciprocally related
in an integral fashion for harmonious living. We laugh at egghead scientists
who can’t remember to button their fly or find their way home from the store,
and we pity the hardworking souls who are never able to lift their noses from
the grindstone. The former exaggerate the vertical aspect and the latter the
horizontal. Integrating wisdom and knowledge, jnana and vijnana, overcomes both
kinds of travesty. More than that, it opens the floodgates within us to admit
creativity and optimize our life.
a mind attached to Me, Arjuna, joining unitively through yoga, and having Me as
refuge, how you will know Me without any doubt, comprehensively, that do hear.
is all the difference in the world between having clear ideas about God or the Absolute
experiencing It. Henri Bergson spoke of two ways of knowing a thing, either by
viewing it from various angles from the outside or by grasping the whole from
the inside. He used the familiar image of Notre Dame Cathedral. A visitor could
send any number of picture postcards to a friend, but no matter how many of
those viewpoints were compiled they could never fully convey the profundity of
the experience of being inside it.
distinguishes knowledge (vijnana) and wisdom (jnana) in just the same way. We
are attracted to knowledge because it describes the actual world and appears to
be undeniably real, but it is actually like Bergson’s pile of postcards, or the
flashcards of the academic student, a substitute interpretation overlaid on the
real. Wisdom, on the other hand, is experiential, a knowing from within.
Intuitive knowing and descriptive knowing are often at odds, but when they are
commensurate they enhance each other. That is the goal of this seventh chapter,
and it is a key aspect of spiritual progress.
humans are prone to distort reality to fit our preconceptions: the ideas come
first, and then the experience is trimmed to fit. As in the Greek myth of Procrustes,
who chopped up his visitors to fit his overly small guest bed, reality is
massacred in the process. Wisdom enlarges the receiving bed, so to speak, so it
can accommodate any and all visitors. From the opposite direction, some seekers
of wisdom believe in utter detachment from practical concerns. Ranging through
the mental cosmos unfettered by any ethical considerations, they may
unintentionally leave a trail of devastation in their wake, in part because of
the unacknowledged propensities for selfishness and violence lurking in the
depths of the brain, or else simply by not caring, where paying attention would
be invaluable. Not all inner inspiration is benign. This is where a reference
with actual circumstances is essential, so that consequences can be considered
and addressed. Because of this, a happy marriage of our inner genius with our
outer awareness is the Gita’s ideal.
inclined humans spend much of their free time speculating about the Absolute,
which is fine and interesting and uplifting as far as it goes, but only a few
achieve the mystical connection that somehow provides a direct experience of
it. Those who do are transformed in every cell of their being; those who don’t
continue to speculate and entertain doubts, striving to amass an adequate
description of the Indescribable. Because of all the time spent mucking about,
they may imagine they are more in touch with the subject than they actually
are, and so become exaggerated or even fanatical about their beliefs.
are useful to the extent that they prevent premature conclusions based on a
limited compilation of external facts, but the certitude that arises from
internal participation in the Absolute instantly sweeps them aside as no longer
necessary. Needless to say, the Gita aims to bring about such a direct
connection. It is not interested in depicting a particular state in
contradistinction with some other state, based on clever arguments, but offers
an all-encompassing, global realization to those aiming to go beyond limited
shall teach you the (pure) wisdom together with this (applied) knowledge,
without any omission, knowing which there will be nothing more here left over
that should be known.
already noted, jnana is pure wisdom and vijnana is applied knowledge, just as
today we have pure and applied science. The traditional distinction is that
knowledge applied to liberation is jnana, while that applied to the world is
vijnana. In Bergson’s analogy above, the interior experience of the cathedral
represents wisdom, and the piles of postcard snapshots are knowledge. Any
proper dichotomy should divide existence in such a way that nothing is omitted
from the picture, and that is what Krishna wishes to offer. It would take an
extremely large book to include all knowledge of any significance, and luckily
for us that is not his intent when he vows to leave nothing out.
favorite analogy of the Upanishads is that if you know the taste of water in
one place, you know the taste of water everywhere. In all cases, knowing the
essence excuses you from personally investigating every single manifestation of
it. The essence is of course the Absolute itself. Taste is the most essential
quality of the Absolute as its qualities are listed in this chapter, beginning with verse 8.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all things will be added unto you,” is
the Biblical version of the same truth.
middle third of the Gita, which begins here, turns our attention from Arjuna’s
development to focus on the Absolute. This roughly corresponds to knowledge transitioning
into wisdom as well; we might say Arjuna comes to the guru distressed by
knowledge and Krishna offers him the salve of wisdom. The final third will
explain how to integrate the two aspects into a life lived with expertise.
Guru’s offer to freely teach comprehensive understanding in the language of the
disciple is a perennial consecration. Many of the Beatles’ songs do the same,
sometimes from the point of view of the worshipper, and sometimes from the One
Beyond calling, calling, calling to us to arise to our full potential, as when
we are welcomed by them as “Michelle”:
Michelle, ma belle
These are words that go together well…. [as name and form]
I love you, I love you, I love you
that's all I want to say
Until I find a way
I will say the only words I know you'll understand
I need to, I need to, I need to
I need to make you see
Oh, what you mean to me
Until I do I'm hoping you will know what I mean
I love you
I want you, I want you, I want you
I think you know by now
I'll get to you some how
Until I do I'm telling you so you'll understand….
And I will say the only words I know that you'll understand
thousands of men, one perchance strives for perfection. Even among the striving
who have attained, one perchance knows Me according to proper principles.
one should be surprised that grasping the Absolute is tougher than catching a
greased pig at a county fair. There are many, many stumbling blocks to forming
a more perfect union with the Ineffable, all of which will be discussed in
various parts of the Gita. It seems Krishna wants Arjuna to think about them
right here at the outset of serious instruction, so he doesn’t lose his
fortitude and become just another spiritual dropout. We could list some of the
major barriers to enlightenment briefly as:
—projections (overlaying imaginary values on worthless
—distractions (changing horses frequently in mid-stream)
—complacency (laziness or smugness)
—image worship (fixating on stills from a moving picture)
—dogma (inflexibility and narrow-mindedness)
—improper instruction (pursuing tangential issues)
—sensitivity to criticism (a type of distraction where the
ego seeks to repair its image rather than discarding it)
—interference by vasanas/samskaras (delusions upwelling from
the unconscious strata)
It is very helpful for the serious student to really ponder
what might go wrong along the path, so they can avoid at least some obstacles.
It’s like giving the navigator on the Titanic a radar screen to watch out for
icebergs. Hitting any one of those babies will sink your ship if you don’t
proposed solutions to humankind’s problems merely seek to substitute a new set
of rules for the old, and none of them succeed for very long. Our only hope is
to rediscover our ground in the Absolute, thereby recognizing the unity of all
creation and beginning to realize our own ability to act in harmony with that
unity. Then we can think on our feet and meet every situation with our best
effort, unhampered by inflexible strictures. These are the proper principles
referred to in this verse.
just as humanity is showing signs of such an awakening, entrenched religious,
corporate, and governmental interests have redoubled their efforts to maintain
the shepherd/sheep dichotomy; in other words, the sharp division between the
rulers and the followers of their rules. You are forced to “go along to get
along,” as my midlevel bosses repeated often in my career. Thus it is that only
one in a thousand dares to seek their own naturally unified state. Moreover,
only one in a thousand of those seekers succeeds, because of the difficulty.
With a united effort we could post much better numbers. But the fear of loss of
income or prestige is a powerful motivator in favor of the status quo and the
abandonment of liberty, no matter how stark the discrepancy with our ideology.
We learn to suppress our normal feelings, to stay hidden in a metaphorical
closet. Human cattle ranching is therefore a relatively simple enterprise, all
too often uncritically abetted by the cattle themselves.
lot of basic human development is necessary to prepare a person for a bipolar
relationship with the Absolute. Krishna’s final exhortation to “do as you please”
at the end of the work can go seriously awry in an immature or selfish mind.
The pool of candidates for seeking the Absolute is bound to be small, and
includes only those who have achieved inner stability. A repressed personality
suddenly allowed to channel the uncoiling springs of its bondage will careen
all over the map, causing damage to itself and others and most definitely not
growing well at all.
usually find that their children need to become socialized before they can
transcend the restrictions of socialization. They need to learn how to cross
the street safely, learn to read, learn to respect other people and property.
Although children are born from the womb of the Absolute, remaining undeveloped
is a recipe for disaster. Sadly though, after all the training, most kids
merely acquiesce to their prescribed duties or role in life. Only a few will
eventually look for the door of the prison.
those who have miraculously passed through childhood and social conditioning
with a harmonious mind intact, or who have reached it through education and
therapy, there is plenty of room to still miss the mark. Religious entrapment
and charismatic charlatans pull many sincere seekers into blind alleys where
they may reemerge only after some shock clears their eyes. Consumer advertising
plays a similar role to religion in mesmerizing the sheep and fleecing them.
The ego itself is a master trickster, capable of protecting its precarious
perch as a mini-potentate by fostering self-delusion. No wonder the Gita
advises finding a wise preceptor to help us overcome the myriad obstacles to
knowing the Absolute “according to proper principles.”
intent of this verse becomes even clearer if we think of the “Me” of the
Absolute as equivalent to “understanding.” To “think of Me” then could be read
as to “strive for understanding.” Only a rare person is interested in
understanding, in either the specific or general sense of the term. That is,
they aren’t interested in the details of why a particular thing bothers them,
they just know it bothers them. Period. End of story. Or else they don’t care
to look beyond the present circumstances to discern any overarching pattern,
such as the reason things happen, the cause behind events. They don’t need to
know that matter is comprised of atoms, for instance, they just take matter for
granted. Most treat looking below the surface as a waste of time, or even as
threatening to their peace of mind, which they equate with not rocking the
boat, not uncovering too much of the seamy underbelly of the world. They were
taught to follow the rules, and that’s all they need to do. Following rules is
hard work, and it takes a lot of energy and a lot of compensatory recreation
and medication to make it palatable. But all our training points in that
direction, so we acquiesce. Breaking out of bondage is also hard work, but it
becomes easier and easier as the seeker comes into alignment with their natural
the small number who do find themselves interested in probing the meaning of
what is taking place around them, they are still faced with a supremely
difficult puzzle. Comprehensive understanding isn’t simply lying around
somewhere, neatly packaged, waiting for seekers to dig it up. It is a very
subtle business, with only a remote possibility of being finally resolved.
History shows us that very often one generation’s facts are the next
generation’s fallacies. Some seekers of truth are content with only a superficial
assessment as the final word; others accept what they are told by authority
figures; still others lose heart or get distracted by happenstance. Ultimately,
only one in a million achieves anything approaching a satisfactory level of
first thousand under reference are the multitudes that busy themselves with
mundane matters—getting and spending and all that. Only the rare individual
wants to know the meaning of life, and how to detach from all that ceaseless
and circumscribed activity. This is not at all surprising. It is the rarity of
the second order of magnitude that makes us wonder.
of those who “seek the havens” (Tolkien) or “dance to a different drummer”
(Thoreau) initially feel superior that they are “far from the madding crowd”
(Hardy). Unfortunately, the vast majority are merely looking to replace an old,
outdated formula with a more modern, up-to-date one. Or a more ancient and
venerable one. They believe that by learning a few rote phrases or ideas or
following some prescribed practice they have accomplished all that is possible.
But Krishna assures us that the Absolute cannot be reached by any formula. Only
the rare soul who dares to step outside all artificial barriers has the
potential to meet it face to face.
is a world of difference between the rare individual in touch with their dharma
who truly marches to the beat of a nonconforming drummer, and those who only
read or hear about it and then fantasize and dream about different drummers in
a romantic way, but timidly stick close to the tried and true. The latter make
up the 999 of the second thousand who don’t know the Absolute according to
brief survey of history will show us that even the most perfect formula quickly
becomes a stale cliché. Humanity preserves the best prescriptions the longest,
but over time they lose their vital relevance and become empty strings of
syllables. The second thousand is mainly made up of repeaters of improved
slogans, but who are not striving to learn their meaning. There is really very
little to separate them from their mundane brethren. They want a code of laws
to cling to. They are not interested in real matters of the spirit, “written
not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone,
but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:1)
in a thousand thousands is one in a million, the very phrase used today to
indicate maximum rarity. If it were as common as one in a million, there would
be more than 7ooo enlightened humans on earth at present. Probably the true
figure is more like one in a billion. But Krishna is trying to teach something
more than simple rarity. He wants us to avoid the easy pitfalls of spiritual
egotism. We must ask ourselves if we are simply acting out our old habits
dressed in fancy clothing, and thereby disguising our shortcomings from
ourselves. Can we dare to stand naked in our own candid assessment? Or must we
always dwell in a “culture of make believe,” (Derrick Jensen) in order to
validate ourselves in the eyes of others? Who will dare to make their life
there is any scripture that should be viewed as not peddling a formula but
recommending transcending all formulas, the Bhagavad Gita is it.
water, fire, air, sky, mind, reason, and also consciousness of
individuality—thus, here is divided My eightfold nature.
but perhaps not surprisingly, the Absolute’s eightfold nature is also our
nature as human beings. The first
five of these elements—the universal four elements, found throughout the
ancient world, along with their unifying fifth or quint-essence—will be
discussed under the next verse. For now we will examine mind and reason, along
with ego, which in Indian wisdom simply specifies the awareness and maintenance
distinguish mind from reason or intellect somewhat differently than we do now.
Briefly, mind is the material aspect and reason the nonmaterial, as in brain
and thought. Mind is the master coordinator of sensory input, the part that
creates a story to account for whatever happens and then presents it to
awareness. Neurobiologists study the mind, while psychologists—at least of the
old school—address the reasoning faculty and its adjuncts. The relation of mind
to intellect is akin to that between the body and its performance. Just as a
body without activity is dead, a mind without intellection is meaningless, or
what the ancients called ignorant. The nonmaterial aspect relies on the
material aspect, but animates it, brings it to life. Mind is thus a kind of
launching platform for flights of comprehension and intuition.
most people vaguely call the mind is broken down into four parts in traditional
Indian psychology. Here in the Gita, cittam,
memory, is blended into the other three, or else it was simply omitted because
it didn’t fit the meter. A “thought experiment” illustrates this fourfold
process very well.
a class I was teaching I got everyone to focus on me, and for the briefest
instant pulled an apple out of my briefcase, held it up, and tucked it out of
sight again. While it was held up I asked “What is this?” The entire process
took about a second.
students, working in pairs, each filled a whole page with ideas about what
“this” was, which we then collected. These ranged from applelike concepts to
mythological associations, urban legends and arcane references. My guess is
there were also lots of thoughts held in check as to why we were spending time
on something so trivial.
why: the process illustrates how the mind works. In the Indian scheme, manas or
mind is the first stage, the
questioning part of us that continually asks “What is this?” We are
biologically hardwired as well as psychologically conditioned to direct our
mental energy toward identifying our surroundings so as to avoid danger and
seek pleasure and sustenance. (This can also be a technique to discover the
Absolute, if “What is this?” is accompanied by neti neti, whereby all identifiable thises are subtracted from the
solution; but that’s another story. We almost always focus on identifiable
response to “What is this?” the cittam,
the memory banks, recall similar items from the past. Nothing is ever
forgotten, so every damn apple you’ve ever met is in there. This is only one of
the astounding miracles of existence we casually take for granted, how those
thousands of relevant memories are reactivated in the blink of an eye. If we
didn’t zip ahead to the next step, they would keep parading before our mind’s
very quickly buddhi, the intellect,
kicks in with its identification. A name label is our handy way of epitomizing
the identity of something. Though the process is too fast for anyone to notice,
each class member had the nearly instantaneous answer to my question, that
“This is an apple.”
lastly, the ahamkara, the ‘I’ or ego
sense, brings in its personal preferences and concludes “Apples are good. They
are food. They are not dangerous. I like apples.” If we had had someone who had
eaten a poisoned apple or was allergic to them, they would have concluded
“Apples are bad. I don’t like them. I should avoid them.” A whole string of
such associations are incorporated into an emotional response that epitomizes
them in the blink of an eye.
fourfold process is going on all the time. Why do we care? Because it
demonstrates how little of the actual world we are taking in, and how much of
it is our highly refined and yes, prejudiced opinion. For most Americans, if
I’d held up an Arab, for instance, they would have spewed negative associations
for hours, because there was a war on. It wouldn’t matter how saintly the
person was, the memory links would have been lethal. And most of what we
believe comes from propaganda conditioning. This is how we are prepared to
fight. We don’t have to be coerced, we just have to be convinced. Our own
memories are the most convincing things around, but unfortunately the
associations we have with them are anything but uncorrupted. It’s precisely
here we can experience what appears to be certitude, but what is in fact our
own skewed opinion rising up to obscure our vision.
actual source of our thoughts is hardly encountered at all after our first few
years of life. This is true with everything, not just the bogeyman of the hour.
If I had brought in a wax apple or even a red ball with painted streaks, our
minds would have gone through the same process of interpretation and reaction,
and identified them as apples. The modern world has piled false images on top
of the already false system we operate under. Without a “hands on” examination,
we might still believe we had seen an apple even if we hadn’t.
we are ever to emerge from spiritual death and come back to life, to use the
traditional imagery, we must open ourselves up to something more than this
static reactivity to our surroundings. We must relearn how to “see” the world. Could
there be anything more important than this?
key question is, does the apple really exist or not? Everything we “knew” about
it was supplied by us, a tiny amount by our sensory system and the vast
majority by our memory banks. Where is the actual apple in all this?
Indian description of reality is that it has to be as real as a berry in the
palm of your hand, in other words, irrefutable, axiomatic. After the thought
experiment the apple was diced up and passed around. Since experience is
dramatically mediated and truncated by our thoughts, such as “I am now eating
an apple,” which brings in the millions of memories of previous apple eating,
we turned off the lights and concentrated a moment before eating it. Hopefully
there was a brief instant of true experience that transcended all our concepts.
Certainly the what-it-was tasted very good and was undeniably eaten. For a
millisecond it was “a berry in the palm of our hands.”
is the non-transcendental. Know the other to be My nature, which is
transcendental, constituting life, by which the phenomenal world is sustained.
VII begins with a survey of the main obstacles to unity with the Absolute. The
non-transcendental aspects of our being are what we are made of, while the
transcendental is who we are in essence. The former conduce to bondage and the
latter to liberation. Yet there is an important synthesis here of the duality
between nature and spirit (prakriti and purusha) in that both are said to be of
the nature of the Absolute. There is no God versus not-God here: all is God.
The distinction is between transcendental and non-transcendental, or
non-material and material. This is a leap toward unity from the blatantly
dualistic Samkhya system of ancient India, and is relevant today especially in
contradistinction to the religions that insist that God is wholly Other than we
five elements of the material aspect of existence were mentioned in the
previous verse. They signify the first five chakras, along with mind as the
sixth and reason as the seventh. Taken together they comprise the individual we
take ourselves to be. Chakras, “wheels,” are energy centers vertically arranged
along the spine, and tapped into for meditation. The five material elements are
symbolic of major aspects of the life that is sustained by the Absolute, and
are listed from the most gross to the most subtle. We address them here because
their limiting influence is under discussion. The meaning is barely touched upon,
and it is incumbent on the disciple to expand on these ideas through
refers to our physical makeup, and is associated with the lowest chakra,
centered at the base of the spine. We are very much limited by our need to fuel
and maintain the body. Illness and injury frequently command our attention. To
a significant degree we think of ourselves as being our physical body, giving
us tunnel vision about who we are. And yet harmonizing the body is the first
step in a happy life. We must have bread before philosophy.
associated with the second chakra near the genitals, symbolizes our emotional
constitution. Once the physical body is taken care of, our feelings are the
next most dominant part of us, coloring how we see the world and ourselves,
directing the course of our life much more than our rational thinking does,
despite appearances to the contrary. Emotions are highly compressed packets of
information that can be either supportive or detrimental depending on their degree
of harmony. Our body’s changing chemical makeup causes us to feel and act in
certain predictable ways, and it is very difficult to live free of traumatized emotional
colorations. Mood altering drugs are widely used to try to stabilize the
personality and allow it to function uniformly, but they have many terrible
side effects. If your life is dictated by drugs it is not free; you are
dependent, at the mercy of something external. It is far healthier to harmonize
your feelings through study and contemplation, coupled with a corrective course
with a guru or therapist if you are fortunate enough to have that option.
rational mind is akin to the fire that springs from the fuel of our daily life.
With it we take in sensory input and convert it to ideas that throw light on
our world. The third chakra is in the region of the solar plexus, where food is
digested. The mind similarly digests what is fed into it. We examine our
surroundings and identify their value to us, converting them from dead “logs”
into flaming brands. Our mental fire radiates a lot of light if it is not
obscured by the smoke of confusion. No one needs to be instructed as to how our
mind leads us to do what we do: most of us believe that it is our sole
motivator, until insight subverts its dominance. Then we realize we have been
led astray by vast amounts of misinterpretation and misinformation. Self-help
books and programs mostly work through redirecting the rational mind to
healthier pathways. Retraining the mind to openness is a long and difficult
process, punctuated by occasional leaps of comprehension, as when humanity
finally discovered how the solar system works and volumes of faulty speculation
on the movements of the heavenly bodies went instantly out of date.
is equated with our vital energies. The oxygen or prana we breathe vitalizes
our entire being, and the fourth chakra is near the center of the circulatory
system in the lungs and heart. When we live in polluted places, ingesting food
containing toxic byproducts and beaming flickering electronic signals into our
eyes all day long, our energies shrivel to a low ebb. We need access to fresh
air and exercise. Or we artificially enhance our energies temporarily by
imbibing “spirits” and other intoxicating substances, but these bouts are
always followed by a “crash” of even lower energy. Pure water can flush out the
sludge, but we may have to fight through a period of transitional “detox”
before regaining our balance. Sadly, many seekers are turned back by the
difficulties encountered at this stage of regaining health, and get caught in an interminable cycle of artificial highs and
sky symbolizes what we glibly refer to as spirit, what we know through
intuition and insight. When properly attuned, our spiritual aspect is our direct
connection with the absolute Ground, but we are also easily deceived by
projections and fantasies originating in our own hopeful wishes. We have to
sort out the true from the false and purify our inspiration, or we will be
caught in a house of mirrors without an exit. Sky is space, and since it is
“empty” we tend to project our own illusions onto it. Intuition comes like a
fresh breeze to quicken the spirit. But we must be careful not to heed false
intuition. It is very difficult to distinguish true intuition from wishful
thinking, and this is the primary challenge of this fifth chakra to the seeker
of truth. Psychologist and dream researcher Stanley Krippner uses the term
Newage (rhymes with sewage) to characterize trashy New Age beliefs that are
nothing more than addled fantasies. When we speak of words that trip us up, we
are referring to this chakra that resides near the larynx.
noted above, the mind residing in this psychophysical system, symbolized by the
third eye or sixth chakra, has four main parts, though the Gita lists only
three, combining the memory factor into the mind. The mind is the questioning
part: throughout our life we are on the quest of asking questions. We need to
know “What is this?” to assure our safety. So the mind goes on asking “what is
this, what is this?” endlessly. Out of our memory banks or samskaras we very
quickly recover all the relevant associations, abetted by what are loosely
called instincts. These are the vasanas, or the genetically programmed
memories. Once a positive identification is made, we can relax, or in rare
cases we can flee or fight. Assessment of the overall situation in context is
done by the intellect or the reasoning faculty, located at the seventh chakra
at the top of the skull. Finally, we assert our likes and dislikes in regard to
the new input. Our preferences taken as a lump are known as the ego, or the
consciousness of our individuality. We think we are who we are because of what
we like and what we don’t like.
system serves wild animals and others in simple survival mode very well. But
the questing spirit rapidly becomes dulled by a mind that covers all new
experiences with labels and shoves them into pigeonholes constructed at an
early stage of life. The so-called midlife crisis occurs when the deadness of
this type of living becomes oppressive to the spirit. We want to regain the
sense of aliveness we knew as children that is anesthetized by our cleverness
in identifying everything instantly. The crisis should force us to learn how to
transcend all our oppressive structures, but all too often we are taught to
just put up with them. They are just “life,” after all. Perhaps a little
prescription medication or a couple of drinks to make accepting a living death
easier. Needless to say, the Gita urges a waking up to full aliveness, not a
resigned acceptance of mediocrity.
this light, we should consider the positive aspects of the chakras too. Their
transcendental aspect is covered in verses 9 and 10, but their mundane aspect
deserves a mention, as it can be rewarding in its own right. The physical level
brings joy and health through sports activities and the art of dance, for
instance. Walking is said to be the perfect exercise, gentle and harmonizing.
Any physical exercise helps counteract depression. When our emotions are in
balance, we feel happy and at peace with the world, and can much more easily
participate in whatever endeavor we choose. Calm emotions allow our “ordinary”
mind to much more easily tune in with its senses, raising us into a state of
expertise, alert and awash with interesting input. Intuition draws forth our
best and most artistic abilities. The improvising musician uses intuition to
access original melodies and harmonies, the therapist intuits approaches to the
patient’s blockages, and the scientist intuits new ways to study the mysteries
of nature. Words and music soar when the fifth chakra is in tune. Poets are set
free, orators can move crowds to initiate transformation, and great writers
enshrine potent truths for all to appreciate. Finally, it is easy to see that
when our wisdom and reason are harmonized, free of quirks and perversions, we
become centered and happy. These few verses of Chapter VII dealing with the
chakras point us to a world of growth that we can access both by meditation and
by harmonizing them in actual practice through our living and loving.
that all beings have this as their common source. I am the becoming as also the
dissolution of all this (phenomenal) world.
noted earlier, the first third of the Gita, consisting of six chapters, focuses
on the disciple and what he or she has to do to overcome initial problems. It
constructs a theoretical basis for the wisdom of the Absolute. The middle third
turns its eye on becoming unified with the Absolute, and the last third melds
theory and practice together in a dynamic synthesis. Thus the very structure of
the Gita exemplifies yoga dialectics.
that we are entering the middle section, we will begin to find examples of how
Krishna as a representative of the Absolute is the essence of all things. The
secret teaching is to look within all items of manifestation for their core
value, which is the Absolute. Such an orientation is extremely profound, making
the difference between a life filled with meaning and a meaningless one. Not
just make-believe meaning either, but an electrifying, fully convincing, vivid
experience of aliveness.
middle third is therefore about actually tuning in to the Absolute. Arjuna has
rejected his social milieu and is seeking a more valid norm on which to base
his life. He wants living meaning in place of deadening prescriptions. He is
listening intently for an adumbration of the Absolute, a different drummer, so
that he might follow a life path grounded in truth.
is, however, a major paradox in the notion of marching to a different drummer.
Very often difference for difference’s sake will produce a chaotic, unmusical,
tuneless beat. We have to actually hear the invisible drummer of the universe,
or else we are only being contrary, negating the tried and true but not yet
incorporating anything valuably new. Some of the sterility of twentieth century
music, for example, stems from this very contrarian paradigm. And yet, and
yet…. Frequently this negation of normality is the first step on a journey of a
thousand miles that actually gets somewhere important. Given enough time and
development, that different drumbeat may be the wave of the future. It might be
worth a try.
phenomena demonstrate the gist of this very well. Ants and bees have no leader
to speak of—the queen is actually just the egg-layer. Humans call her a queen
because of anthropomorphic prejudice. Her importance comes from being the sole source
of manifestation for the colony rather than ruling it. In any case, she doesn’t
give orders; the insects intuitively know what to do on their own. Individual
ants are like individual synapses in the human brain. On their own they are
essentially helpless and even stupid. But put them together and, leaderless
though they are, they begin to march to that different drummer. Well anyway, a
drummer. An emergent intelligence becomes palpable. The insects work together,
following their inner promptings, to achieve astonishing things. If any ant
decides to go their own way, they will either die or fortuitously start a trend
in a new direction. It’s impossible to predict, but the colony needs explorers
of new terrain to increase its options and find new food sources. At the same
time, depending on many factors, the contrary ant may simply become irrelevant,
just wandering off to disappear.
the standpoint of a detached observer, random ants broaden the spectrum of
possibilities, extending the options and reach of the whole colony. From within
the group, these rebels may look very “wrong” as they stray away from the tried
and true path to the crumb pile. And they may turn out to be “wrong,” or they
may find a new treasure trove. One thing for sure, those who keep to the beaten
path will seldom encounter serendipitous edible stockpiles. But there is a
great perfection in having both antisocial explorers and social conformists.
Either type by itself would not make for a healthy or dynamic species.
need to act in concert with each other, as much as ants or bees, in order to
maintain a complex society. The fantasy of the lone pioneer struggling wholly
on his own against overwhelming odds or the hip chick who doesn’t need anything
she doesn’t already have are just that: fantasies. Our lives are built on the
provisions of others, to the extent that we very rarely contribute anything
truly new ourselves. And this dependence, while more or less constraining, also
frees us to do really wonderful things, because we are not occupied all the
livelong day with providing all our necessities from scratch. There is a subtle
dialectic here that most people miss, becoming instead protagonists of one
extreme position or the other.
crux of the matter is that we want to be free of arbitrary social engineering
of our lives, but only so that we can tune in to the harmony of the natural
flow. The stream of our consciousness is quite wise when it is grounded in the
Absolute, but it more often gets canalized by unwise manipulators in positions
of power and authority. These latter have ever claimed that they take their
orders from the Absolute or God, and their dictates might even work if such
were indeed the case. But they are lying, as history amply demonstrates, and
they will keep lying as long as it attracts willing slaves to their cause.
am well aware that fascist dictators including Hitler have also been enthralled
with the beehive analogy. Rest assured the Absolute is utterly democratic,
embracing non-conformists and conformists without distinction. The most serious
of the many flaws of dictatorship is to imagine you know all the factors
involved in life. Invariably a few simplistic ideas are overlaid on the entire
spectrum of possibilities, and anyone who doesn’t fit the mold is treated very
cruelly. Totalitarianism in any form is therefore a freezing of the human
spirit, an incarnation of hatred. Chapter XVI includes a harsh criticism of
such attitudes, the only place Krishna is so ferocious in the entire Bhagavad
We humans tolerate a lot of
latitude in those above us in the pecking order because when wise leaders guide
the colony well it produces a low-hassle social structure with a lot of freedom.
So we’re inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s only when we come
up against the blind king, the psychotic leader, or the morally bankrupt
corporation, that we become painfully aware that power really does corrupt, and
our allegiance is misplaced. Then, in order to regain a meaningful connection
with the intelligent flow of the world—otherwise called evolution—we have to
break our dependency on flawed leadership and tune in in new ways to beneficial
undertakings. Sensitivity to the invisible side of life and frank admission of
our innate limitations will open us up to positive motivations as no absolutist
monarch ever can. The example of the decentralized and leaderless ant farm or
beehive that bustles or hums with meaningful activity can inspire us to take
the plunge. They are truly democratic in ways the human race has barely begun
to experiment with.
else is higher than Me. In Me all this is strung as a classified series of
precious beads on a string.
Golden Thread of the Absolute is the unifying factor in everything conceivable
and perceivable, the vertical essence within all horizontal actuality. Without
such a unifying factor, the many fields of interest would stand alone,
unrelated to outwardly dissimilar fields. The vision of all things being
related implies an absolute connection somewhere behind their surface
the Cartesian system of horizontal and vertical coordinate axes, which looks
like an equal-armed cross, the horizontal axis represents manifestation ranging
from perceivable objects on the positive side to their corresponding mental concepts
on the negative side. The vertical axis represents the essence of the
perceiving and conceiving entity on its journey from inception or conception at
the negative pole to full expression or realization at the positive end. Having
no horizontal component, the vertical resembles the thinnest possible thread,
yet it serves to knit the whole into a meaningful ensemble. Without it our life
would be a series of disconnected incidents. With it there is continuity
through life. In the English language this is even represented by a picture of
the vertical axis: I.
we examine our life history, we can easily perceive the thread of our I-sense
that has continued through the millions of specific incidents that comprise it.
Krishna has that same sense about the whole universe, and is describing it
the Gita’s philosophy the ego and the I-sense are not the same. The ego is the
coordinator of personal preferences, the ahamkara, while the I-sense is the
self, the spark of the Absolute called atman. It is very helpful to distinguish
are many possible series within manifestation, possibly the best description of
which is Narayana Guru’s Darsanamala,
a garland of Visions, where all
aspects of life are divided into ten major psychological categories strung
together on a golden thread like a flower garland.
the context is overlooked and the present verse examined in isolation, it isn’t
clear what the ‘this’ is that is connected by the unifying thread of the
Absolute. But Krishna has just enumerated the series in question in verse 4: it
is the self. The first seven categories correspond to the chakras (somatic
energy centers) from lowest to highest, and the eighth, the ego sense, can be
considered a kind of overall binding, unifying agent. Ego as the present end product
of evolution may be said to surpass even the intellect, which it employs to
make sense of its journey. Selfish tendencies have given the sense of self a
bad name, but in reality it is the miracle of waking up to existence that tops
everything else and lends it meaning. All creatures know, but as far as we can
tell, humans are the only ones who know that they know. It seems the sense of
self is a unique evolutionary development on our planet.
Absolute is a necessary concept to coordinate all disparate factors of
existence. The mechanical/material view of the universe that held sway for a
few centuries in the West treats everything as random evolutes of matter and
energy, clumps of dust particles and quanta of energy in discreet packets
existing in isolation. Each bead in the present metaphor could represent a
particle or quantum or event. Without the unifying link of the Absolute, the
beads only make meaningless piles of scattered debris. With the golden thread
of the Absolute to support and organize them, they can form a beautiful
necklace or other decorative or useful article. The Absolute is like a skeletal
structure on which both the skin and meat of existence are stretched.
am the taste in waters, I am the light in the moon and the sun, I am Aum in all
the Vedas, sound in the sky, and the human quality in men.
up, and using a graded scale of most solid or dense ranging to the most subtle,
earth (first chakra) symbolizes the physical aspect of existence, associated
with the sense of smell. Water (second chakra) stands for the emotional realm,
connected with taste. Fire (third chakra) the lower mind (digestive thought,
related to the senses), linked to sight. Air (fourth chakra) the higher,
intuitive mind, connected with touch. Space (fifth chakra) spiritual insight,
connected with hearing. Some systems have alternative correspondences with the
senses, but in one order or another the lower five chakras are connected with
the five senses.
(sixth chakra) is considered the “sixth sense” that links and correlates the
other five, integrating the organism with the environment. The intellect
(reason, associated with the seventh chakra) is a higher order yet,
incorporating abstract ideas not necessarily linked to sensory input. The final
culmination of the series is the sense of individuality, without which none of
this would be necessary.
Knowing this, Krishna’s
listing of qualities in verses 8 and 9 makes perfect sense. Though
jumbled, possibly for reasons of poetic meter, he is enunciating the eightfold
nature of manifestation from verse 4 and providing the transcendental or
absolute element in each. “Taste in waters” refers to the central value of the
second chakra. Taste doesn’t just mean flavor, but the selectivity that springs
from our emotional responses. The moon and sun are paired at the sixth chakra,
and their light illuminates the mind. Consciousness is the light within the
mental apparatus, and as such is its absolute or supernal value. Aum in all the
Vedas—the essential Word among words—matches up with sound in the sky at the
fifth chakra, and symbolizes the sense of conscious hearing. The human quality
is none other than the sense of individualized self or ego.
am the holy fragrance of the earth, and also the brilliance of the luminary
(presence), the vital principle in all beings, and the (essence of) austerity
in all ascetics.
it interesting that the transcendental aspect of the world is in its being
sensed by an interpreting being? Earth is just matter, until it is perceived by
a living entity. The perceiver doesn’t take actual earth into the mind, but
abstracts it, grasps its essence, and is only able to reflect on it in that
rarified form. The conclusion is hard to miss: we are all agents of the
Absolute, dealing all the time with essences with hardly a second thought. We
abstract literally everything. Yet the “real” world is so convincing that we
are certain we are dealing with concrete matter and not the rarified essence of
it. This is a fertile source of confusion, what R. D. Laing calls the
mystification of experience. We project the essence of our experience onto an
apparent outside field of solidity.
the ancient Indian science, smell is the essence of earth, associated with the
first chakra. Here it is poetically termed the holy fragrance to underline its
superlative value. Luminary presence is usually translated as fire, a source of
light, and so it refers to the third chakra, connected to sight. Vitality in
this instance is a translation of jiva, individuality, and so relates to the
ego sense. In this case it does not, as we might expect, refer to the vital
energies of prana, which are associated with air and the fourth chakra. Instead
tapas, ascetic intensity or desire, the desire to connect with the whole, arises
in the heart, the fourth chakra, and is connected with the sense of touch.
somewhat chaotic list in verses 8 and 9 is thus a jumbled recitation of the
seven chakras along with the overarching sense of individuality mentioned in
verse 4, revealing each of their subtle aspects in relation to consciousness.
The secret teaching for the seeker to grasp is that by meditating on each
chakra a connection with the Absolute may be established, via the essential
quality listed. This does not have to be done in any particular order,
apparently, though it is often practiced from the base to the top and back to
the base again.
Me to be the perennial seed of all beings; I am the reason of the intelligent,
and I the brightness of (those who are) the brilliant.
10 and 11 foreshadow a lot of upcoming material where Krishna lists his quality
as the essence of everything, thereby calling us to turn toward the light
within. Each of the examples could be used for a deep reflection on the meaning
of one aspect of life.
have already talked about the pulsation model (in III, 22, 38 and 40), where
existence, both individual and collective, is understood to begin from a point
source, expand to its utmost extension, and then consolidate back to a point. A
seed grows into a mighty oak, which in turn produces new seeds that fall into
the earth to begin the cycle over again. The Absolute represents the overall
impetus that energizes the entire process, while as individuals we embody one
cycle—or perhaps one cycle at a time. Meditating on the relation of an
individual expression with the total dynamic is fertile ground for insight.
V introduced vasanas, the gene-like seeds of particular potentials within each
person that develop into many-branched trees of expression, and instructed us
to select those most favorable to our spiritual growth and downplay the rest.
person has a mystical streak within them, but the potentials or predilections
for it remain untapped as deeply buried seeds in the unconscious. They must
bide their time until outward circumstances are favorable for their expression.
It is too early during youth, although many mystical-type events pass almost unnoticed,
taken for granted by the unreflective child. Spiritual vasanas are not often
amenable to flowering during the school years, or in job performance or mating
rituals that dominate the first half of our lives. Although some few with
exceptional gifts exhibit their abilities early on, generally it is somewhere
past the preliminary stages of development that people begin to make room for their
unique forms of inner expression.
a person is secure enough in meeting basic needs to have unprogrammed space in
their life, allowing them to turn to peaceful activities like contemplative
reflection and meditation, the perusal of enlightening books, the study of
human and natural mysteries, fellowship with seekers of truth, and so on, it is
as if the mystical seeds have begun to be watered and fertilized. Soon they
sprout and develop in concert with the unique shape of the individual in which
they have gestated. In this way they are like any other seed of the human
psyche, all of which grow and flower in their appropriate time.
subtle development of each person’s mystical potential can take many routes,
some being beneficial and some deleterious. Frequently they are treated as
embarrassing deviations from normal behavior and stifled, or they may be
trotted out as curiosities, dried out and tacked to the wall for public
admiration. Very often they are channeled into previously existing forms of
religion, where they are either reinforced or repressed. There is a real danger
here of the unbridled ego over-fertilizing them, catapulting the temporary
vessel in which they reside into power trips. They need to be gently kept in
bounds with respect to the innate self-interest of the person they inhabit.
Hence the importance of a guru or trusted group of friends to provide
corrections for any exaggeration. If they are nurtured only in secret, they can
easily become twisted and deformed, so long as they are hermetically sealed off
from healthful interactions and conscious pruning. As always, the optimal
course will balance public and private time, with plenty of both, each
fine-tuning, feeding and energizing the other.
most intrepid humans continue to forge their own paths and open up new fields
of awareness, without requiring any structured system. Systems tend to become
static and therefore limiting. These independent souls are kept harmonious by a
heartfelt interest in the good of all. Whether or not they are embraced by some
religion or other institution is purely tangential. They are the embodiment of
the Absolute at its best, uplifting themselves and those they encounter by
their own inner radiance wherever they roam.
upon a time “primitive” societies supported and venerated the mystical seeds
within their members and fostered their beneficial development. As a result,
strong and healthy individuals were not uncommon among them. In the modern
world, with its increased emphasis on material necessity featuring anthill-like
work habits from birth to death, full-fledged humans are becoming an endangered
species. It requires personal bravery and an iconoclastic streak, not to
mention good fortune, to free a person to truly become at least a significant
fraction of what they are capable of. The delicate process of becoming a real
Adult, not just in years but in wisdom, should be fostered and nourished by all
well-intentioned members of a society.
to the Absolute being the reason of the intelligent (or literally, the
intelligence of the intelligent), it’s a wonderfully liberating notion.
Habitually we give credit to particular individuals for their ideas, but where
do they get them? If they are honest about it, they have no clue. While they
may be extremely clever at manipulating data and seeking more of it in
far-flung places, true inspiration comes out of a mysterious inner darkness
into the light of their awareness. Their genius is to know how to handle it
when it comes, not to create it. Ownership of truth is a distraction, adding a
layer of ego to what is available to everyone, at least in principle. The wise
know they have only discovered what was there all along, and so the real credit
goes to whatever packed those stupendous potentials into the very fabric of the
universe in the first place.
so easily take our intelligence for granted! We think of ourselves as plodding,
ordinary beings just acting out the next step we envision. But where does that
vision come from? The seeds of the Absolute, the vasanas, bubble up into
consciousness, and when they make their appearance we follow what they show us,
imagining we are “in charge.” Here we are instructed to regain a sense of the true
wonder and majesty of the light that leads us through what we have learned to
imagine as “mundane” activity.
Asimov’s essay The Eureka Phenomenon presents
his views on how we hapless mortals glean many important revelations from our
unconscious. He believes it is the source for most of our scientific advances,
as well as artistic and literary insights. Asimov, an arch-materialist, was
basically saying the same thing as Krishna here.
idea of “brilliant” intelligence goes way back, apparently. Krishna is
associating his essence as the source of all existence with the intellect here,
underlining its importance in upholding coherence in creation. What shines or
radiates from an alive person is also not in any way caused or created by that
person, it is an intangible glow, which is the Absolute. It may also be called
our true nature, our whole being, or something similar. We tend to view
intuition as the occasional influx of extraordinary inspiration. Yet if we
stopped believing that the Absolute is only found in the unusual and the
artistic, we could be aware of its presence at all times and in all
each of these descriptions by Krishna, we are taught to let go of personal
clinging and reverse our viewpoint to honoring what is all around us as the
source of everything that matters. In the process our egotistical sense of self
is gradually replaced with a global sense of Self.
am the strength of the strong, devoid of desire and passion. In beings I am
desire which is not contrary to righteousness.
bit of the mystical aspect of wisdom transmission may be noticed as this
section on the chakras is finished up. In the previous verse, Krishna touches
the highest chakra (intelligence) then here the lowest (strength, earth), before
settling in the middle (proper desire, heart). The vertical dialectic of yoga
is experienced by the reader, probably without any awareness of the invisible
first line asks us to distinguish spiritual strength from ordinary strength.
This refers to strength of character, not strength of muscle. Being devoid of
desire and passion, it is not dependent on any outside force to press it into
action, but is a rock of stability. When we are grounded in the Absolute, mere
force cannot move us off that central stabilizing truth.
to later revisions and degradations, the Gita’s philosophy could not be
mistaken for one of those modern puritanical religions where all positive urges
are to be squelched. This is a philosophy of life, not death. The second line
implies that there is such a thing as desire in accord with righteousness or
one’s true inner nature (dharma).
Mundane desire is a distraction, but properly oriented desire, desire for truth
or realization, is a beneficial aspect of life. Here a righteous determination
is treated as a positive impulse.
in tune with righteousness is a very important concept. Krishna taught
throughout the preliminaries that desire is the enemy of the wise, and similar
assertions are found in most religions. If desire is taken as the thesis, most
disciples then adopt a hostile attitude toward desire as the antithesis, and in
the process spend a lot of time struggling to try to suppress their own desires
and preferences. But the true dialectical synthesis of yoga is to transform
desire into an engine for positive growth by uniting thesis and antithesis. It
is a desireless desire, because it springs from a state of calm, of
nongrasping. The desire that accords with our dharma or our special gifts propels
us to put in the time to actualize our potential. Linked to our svadharma, our
true calling, desire is a positive factor.
sattva, rajas and tamas—know those manifestations to be My own. I am not in
them, but they are in Me.
theory of the three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas, is one of the Gita’s major
contributions to psychology, and it will be covered in depth later on. Briefly,
consciousness is said to be transparent, translucent, or opaque—clear, active
or fixed—generally in rotation, though one or another tends to predominate in
people. Being aware of them helps us judge the accuracy of our thinking.
Krishna will teach Arjuna a lot about them, while assuring him that the
Absolute itself is not subject to the cycles. They are strictly part of
manifestation. That’s what he means by, “I am not in them, but they are in Me.”
seers speak of truth, they mean something more than the factual truth of
ordinary physical objects or the socially accepted norms of behavior and
perception. It can be described as a state of wholehearted attunement with the
present moment. The dichotomy between seer and scene is abolished, and they
become one. Specific items and facts are irrelevant to this type of absolute
the individual reasserts their sense of separateness, truth becomes
increasingly colored or conditioned in direct proportion to the schism. At
best, with minimal distortion, there is an unbiased openness to the environment
on its most subtle level. In this state, all input is taken for precisely what
it is most likely to be and not run through any interpretive process to
determine its value to the percipient. It is easy to see how everyone and everything
will be impacted, and to act in concert with the greatest possible good. Such a
state, often compared to a clear and highly polished mirror accurately
reflecting what falls upon it, is called sattvic.
of the time we digest data for its relevance to our personal condition. Our
preferences and dislikes, hopes and expectations, all tinge the mirror with the
colorations of our emotional states associated with them. A million
psychological studies have been performed to demonstrate the surprising degree
to which our mental predisposition affects our perception. Such interpretations
cause us to react in our own personal interest. Because self-oriented
(“selfish”) desires affect truth to a significant extent, this state,
predominant in the transactional world, is often compared to a cracked mirror of
colored glass. Images are seen with varying degrees of accuracy, and it takes a
serious analysis to reconstruct the truth of events from the partial and
distorted representation of it in such a mirror. This state is called rajasic.
a self-absorbed person may become bogged down in their own feelings to such a
degree that any outside input is irrelevant. Emotions and obsessive thoughts,
usually heavy and intractable, completely eclipse the actual world around. Opinions
override facts. As an example, psychological studies reveal eye-witnesses to be
right in identifying a suspect less than one quarter of the time, despite feeling
confident about it. Addicts are classically tamasic, as no amount of logic or
heartfelt appeal can break their fixation on their favorite substance. Our mind
is sometimes like a mirror painted black or coated with iron. This is the
rajas and tamas are found in all people, in varying degrees. The gunas, or
modalities of nature as they are sometimes called, cycle and overlap. For
instance, in the morning we might wake up calm and refreshed, and usually have
a little quiet time before launching into the busyness of the day. Then we go
to work and tend to the many chores our life demands of us, as our calmness
gradually ebbs. At the end of the day we may “unwind” with some alcohol or screen
viewing, and then close our wakeful minds down entirely in sleep, completing
one cycle of sattva, rajas and tamas.
many religious systems aim to “polish the mirror” of the mind to perfect its
reflection of truth, the Upanishads aim for a unitive state that surpasses the
duality of the gunas entirely: the perfect attunement mentioned above as
absolute. The rishis believe that basking in this Zenlike state automatically heals
the defect of the mind acting as a mirror. Furthermore, no amount of polishing
and cleaning will convert a mirror image into an actual thing. Hence, the
repeated admonition to seek the Absolute (“Me”) first and foremost. It allows
us to stop reflecting the Absolute and start being the Absolute.
mirror of the gunas is the world in toto,
in which we strive to see our image. We typically look to others, our friends
and relations, to tell us who we are. But they only know our exterior, and they
are limited by their own prejudices. Their description of us is bound to be
faulty. We are the only ones privy to our inner self. Despite this fact, we are
taught—and have a natural proclivity—to look outward for our ratification. Very
early in life we abandon our self-confidence and begin to build an image based
on what other people perceive about us. So, for instance, the tint of our skin
or the size of our nose or our grades in school becomes a defining
characteristic, instead of our inner worth. This is the primary tragedy of the
human race at its present stage of development. We might have a chance to
remain comfortable as who we are if there was only a little idiotic feedback,
but the pressure is wholesale and goes on for our entire life. Plus, we play
into it. By the time we reach what passes for adulthood, we have been
mesmerized by tens of millions of false impressions from the mirrors around us.
Our core is almost certain to be totally inaccessible to us. We wander in an
amusement park hall of distorted mirrors. Our dissociation from our self is
the stuff of nightmares.
cure is not to clean and patch the mirror. That would mean reforming our
associates so they can give a more perfect reflection of us. The very attempt
breeds the spiritual ego, the desire to be seen by others as we wish them to
see us. Many are full of guile here, and they go on to become top dog gurus,
because they show people what they want to see. It’s a performance, a sham. The
real cure is to realize the mirror is always going to distort who we are, it
cannot be prevented, and to instead turn and face ourselves directly. This is
why some seekers prefer to withdraw from society, trying to escape from its
ubiquitous mirrors. But such extreme measures aren’t necessary. Once we realize
we are getting prejudiced feedback, we can start immediately to resurrect our
inner self from its tomb. We can become our own best friend. We can take the
inspiring examples of the great teachers of history (or next door) and raise
ourselves up from the dead by our own efforts.
will always care what others think of us, but it no longer has to define us. We
alone know if we are true, good, honest; or false, bad and deceitful. Everyone
else can only wonder, or accuse. We can be amused at how much of what other
people see in us is their own projection, and we can stop projecting our
expectations onto others. This allows us at least a chance to come to know
people for who they truly are, and it gives them the leeway to liberate
themselves if they are so inclined. This is yet another way we can contribute
to the welfare of the world. It is a win-win, a double affirmation, because by
liberating ourselves we offer that possibility to others, and vice versa. As
our world becomes less imprisoning, our own liberation becomes easier of
attainment. It is even nearer than the mirror surrounding us.
the Gita calls on us to transcend the dominating influence of Nature and its
modalities to re-attain our innate freedom. This is not “mirror polishing Zen”
or any incremental, puzzle-solving kind of path, but a total and absolute break
with conditioned modes of thought. As such it is truly radical, going to the
root of our mediocrity and hacking it off.
Nitya puts this idea succinctly in his Wonder
Journey with a Wandering Guru:
Do not look into the social
mirror and then think that is what you are. You should have an inner estimation
of yourself and the value of what you are doing. Of course, it is possible to
be self-deluded and make mistaken judgments. In order to avoid that, you need a
confidante who is detached. If you learn to strike a root in the universal
order, that gives you stability…. When you sit firm on your own truthfulness,
your own trust, you can face any encounter.
XIV, XVII and XVIII contain a detailed analysis of sattva, rajas and tamas;
here Krishna is merely making a preliminary reference to them. As in II, 45, he
wants us to know that while nature is dependent on the Absolute, the Absolute
is not dependent on nature. It is not an end product of any evolutionary process
of the universe, it is prior to and beyond all manifestation. The gunas are
important and they affect us, but to achieve the highest we must know what is
beyond their influence as well.
by these three manifestations of value, this whole world is unable to know Me,
who am beyond them and unexpended.
puts his finger directly on the nub of our delusion. We are focused on
mirroring and being mirrored by apparently external events, which sets up a
duality of subject and object. Furthermore, the subject is continuously cycling
through degrees of clarity from high to low and back again. In order to know
the Absolute we must abolish this temporary bifurcation and reestablish a
unified field through an intuitive, contemplative breakthrough.
gunas or modalities cause the coloration of the psyche. When angry, it is as if
a red cast is washed over the world, and everything will be interpreted as
being a cause of the anger. Other emotions have their own “color” as well,
which is overlaid on the situation. In English people are green with envy, blue
with sadness, and yellow with cowardice, to cite a few examples. Sattva is
prized because it is clear and doesn’t distort the scene with any color, though
it is still an integral part of the mental/interpretive apparatus. Rajas is
translucently colored, often red as above, by the prevailing state of mind.
Tamas casts a grayish light, fading to black, of disinterest over everything.
In such a state nothing is exciting or beautiful, it is deadened and sad.
Clearly, the only hope we have of making an accurate assessment of life lies in
sattva, yet that is only the beginning.
in IV, 14 I presented a metaphor of a mountain obscured by clouds. In terms of
the gunas, tamas holds sway when the mountain is wholly obscured and all you
see is clouds, rajas is when you can just make out the outlines through the
shifting mists, and sattva is a clear day with the mountain plainly visible. On
closer examination, though, it is only a reflection of the mountain in an
invisible mirror or lake. That means that the mountain is you: you are the
Absolute. As long as we look outside, we will always see only reflections, with
differing degrees of clarity. We become so fascinated by the beautiful scene of
clouds and mountain that we become deluded that this is all there is,
forgetting that we are That.
this divine illusion of Mine, made up of the manifestations of value (gunas),
is hard to surmount. Those who seek Me alone pass over this illusion.
it’s diabolically difficult to surmount duality, since our best efforts are
“drawn back ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald). The instant you take a
photograph is now, but every time you look at it afterwards it is an artifact
of the past. The mind works just like that. Everyone has brief moments of heightened
awareness occasionally, but then we try to grasp them or define them or
reproduce them, and we wander off the mark. Unlike a photograph, every time we
recall a memory we alter it to our liking. The Gita advises us to hold fast to
an absolute one-pointed state of concentration and unitive creative activity,
beyond the gunas, to remain more steadily free of illusions.
“divine illusion” of this verse is the famous maya, which is briefly referred
to in this chapter and once again at the very end of the work. Despite its
central place in Indian philosophy, maya is little mentioned in the Gita.
Possibly this is because the notion of all creation as an illusory projection
is vitiating to a seeker of truth. Why bother trying when our every effort is
bound to go off course? We have to believe we can overcome all challenges, or
else we will just give up. Ultimately a unitive frame of reference does not
distinguish between real and illusory: at its core, everything has the same
does not refer to simply the impossibility of attaining perfect understanding
with manifestation; it means manifestation itself. Anything created cannot
represent the totality—it is necessarily limited. But it is also precious, and
perfect within its limitations. Therefore maya is not something to be avoided,
only taken into account. We have to accept that our perception is limited, but
that doesn’t mean the universe was a bad mistake, an affront to the Absolute.
What has come into being is spectacular, an endless delight, with many more ups
is the paradox right in the heart of existence that any contemplative quickly
bumps up against. We possess an amazing yet imperfect perceiving mechanism with
which to try to discern the meaning of our condition. Divine, natural,
anthropomorphic, any way you look at it, we are caught in a wondrously clever
conundrum in which the unlimited has become limited. According to the
philosophy of the Gita, the only possible resolution is to discover the unitive
Absolute beneath the chaos of the universe. When Krishna advises us to “seek Me
alone,” it means that the resolution does not reside within the natural world,
exactly, but beyond it and through it.
is an implacable enemy of truth, and yet at the same time it is the only way we
have for learning about it. It is a supportive friend of every seeker as well
as a stumbling block. The yogi has to pair off the enemy and friend aspects to
arrive at a transcendent neutrality that has some access to truth.
illusion” has several levels of implication, with the illusory nature of
actuality being most commonly thought of. Scientists and religious philosophers
agree that somehow, something has come out of nothing to create our universe,
or what’s increasingly being called the multiverse, an infinity of universes.
Calling it Nature or God is just putting a face on the Unknowable nothingness
before and beyond the beginning. While the transformation of nothing into
something is as real as real can be, there is an incontrovertible element of
magic in it. If something was truly nothing, then nothing could ever come of
it, which means that nothing must actually be something. Quite the paradox.
actually a wonderful thing that the mystery is, apparently, infinite. A trite
or simple mystery would have been solved long ago, leaving us nothing to seek.
But the mystery of the Absolute appears inexhaustible, so there is no danger of
us becoming bored or complacent. Sadly, humans often prefer to reduce the
mystery to a rote formula, trivializing the whole business. We should be happy
to know that we don’t know everything, instead of gamely pretending we do.
input, the fuel for our entire existence, is notoriously illusory. Various
kinds of vibrations from objects impact the senses, where they are converted to
electrical impulses to be delivered to the brain and reassembled into a rough
approximation of the original object. Memories and habits become a significant
part of the final image, not to mention our reaction to the meaning we assign
to it. It’s actually quite amazing that we can relate well at all with such a
mishmash of illusory input. The fact that our interactions somehow work out,
and we survive and even flourish through them means that we don’t live in a completely
blind illusion: the illusion is divine, meaning coherent. It sustains us, meets
our needs, and expands at precisely the rate that our awareness expands. Think
of the entire range of living creatures, with their widely varying sensory
abilities, and how all of them live successfully in the world as they perceive
it. It’s incredible. So don’t you be bad-mouthing maya!
way to read the phrase “divine illusion” is that the illusion gains an
additional dimension of incomprehensibility from us treating it as divine. If
we imagine that the essence of life is beyond our ken and belongs to a remote
realm of divinity, we naturally will hold back from addressing it with our full
intelligence. We will “kowtow” before the idea, which flings up all sorts of
illusory barriers to merger with it. In other words, the concept of divinity is
one more aspect of illusion.
case it needs further reiteration, the idea is not necessarily to seek Krishna
as a god, since he is just another of the ten thousand (meaning infinite)
poetic allusions in which the Absolute might be clothed. Whether or not to
choose an allusion (illusion) to worship is discussed in detail in Chapter XII,
after Arjuna has had his direct experience of the Absolute. There is some value
in it, but it can easily degenerate into distracting fantasy. In the end,
whether or not to worship a specific image is left up to the seeker. At this
stage, though, we are shedding all conceptualizations as fast as we can, in
order to remain in the present instant, attuned to the intuitive moment.
Me alone” is a secret teaching, repeated throughout the Gita. As long as you
imagine a god out there and go looking for it, even in your mind, the illusion
is insurmountable. You have to seek inside the Me that is You to discover the
source of the reflections that mesmerize your attention. The fragment of the
Absolute that you are in contact with is your very Self. As the Upanishads say,
It is nearer than near and farther than far. That thou art.
evildoers, lowest among men, do not attain Me, their wisdom being distracted by
illusion, affiliated as they are to the demonic (or non-intelligent) aspect of
since we all must confess that our wisdom occasionally gets distracted by
illusion, it looks like we are all in the category of foolish evildoers, lowest
of the low! Sometimes a guru has to be a bit harsh to press the disciple
to wake up. We tend to find ways to become satisfied with our half-baked
reality substitutes, which we then pad with defense mechanisms. That’s why it
is valuable and even necessary to have a guru to whom we grant permission to
shake us out of our stupor.
sad fact is that when our dharma is suppressed we become either masochistic or
sadistic, or say, self-deprecating or conceited. Or both. The thwarted energy
that is initially available for harmonious life expression becomes twisted and
corrupt. Instead of fighting for our own liberation we internalize the
negativity in our own psyche or else hurl it onto others. Life becomes a
shriveled vestige of its promise.
manifests less often as straightforward reveling in pain as in drug addiction
and depression, usually accompanied by the conviction that you will never
succeed. You think of yourself as a victim of uncaring circumstances. Sadism
bides its time awaiting the next war, maintaining itself through meanness and
deliberate sabotage of other people’s happiness. It never has long to wait. It
is convinced it will succeed, and it occasionally does, though the rest of the
world wishes it wouldn’t. It comes into full flower when unleashed in battle,
with its aftermath of rape and pillage. A never-ending war on terror with
torture as a tactic is the fondest wish of sadists come true.
really frustrating part is that these unwholesome and self-defeating urges are
lodged deeper than consciousness can reach without a committed program to root
them out. We don’t have to believe in them. They function independently. Psychologists
think of them quite literally as the demonic aspect of our psyches, and they
are perhaps the greatest challenge in therapy.
also takes a concerted effort to realign the psyche to do away with the
projection of an interested and willful god looking over our shoulder, an
illusion that even atheists experience. It’s probably an iteration of parental
guardianship. As already discussed in detail, when we are children we
internalize a way of acting that is based on how our caretakers want us to behave.
We consciously and unconsciously pattern our thoughts and actions on what some large
external beings want us to think and do. Soon we come to believe we are living
for their happiness, and our own happiness can only be indulged in in secret or
not at all. As adults we transfer those feelings to the authority of the State
and especially to God, but they are not far removed from the immature beliefs
of the child. The schizoid state of modern humanity embodies the gap between
our internal needs and feelings and the imaginary face of the society we are
supposed to be pleasing. If we’re “well adjusted” it’s hard to know the point
of anything if we aren’t doing it for someone else, especially God. An
uninterested Absolute is absolutely unnerving. How dare we accept that we—we
ourselves—are the reason for this life? On reflection, the point of life must
be happiness and interest for us—all of us—but we can’t know this until we stop
living for some imaginary other. Creation is its own reward. It should be
grasped whole and loved completely.
learn to deny ourselves and live for God, but then we wait in vain for our
imaginary God to smile on our efforts. Because there is nothing harder to do
than suppressing our own nature, it becomes a lifelong struggle. What a tragic
waste of time! It stems in large part from the indoctrinated belief that we are
born sinners. The innocence of fresh life is unconsciously resented by people
who have lost their own innocence, and so it must be punished and destroyed.
Needless to say, this is not the way to recover our innocence, or anything
else. Instead, we must dare to be alive. Creation is an unfolding process, and
we should reclaim the unfolding expression we have lost in the process of
abdicating our souls to a hypothetical external enjoyer. To do this safely we
must give up our selfish will along with our belief in God’s will. Exteriorized
will disrupts the unfoldment of our life. We posit the Absolute as a neutral
ground so that we can eliminate or at least deflate all unhealthy forms of
will, and instead center ourselves on the flow of who we are. When we are that,
things go well, and when we lose it, we go on tangents. The Triumph of the Will
can become a Nazi holocaust.
doers of the good, four kinds are intent on Me: the distressed, the seeker of
knowledge, the seeker of the goods of life, and the wise.
broad categories of seeker are introduced as those who do good. We may at first
imagine that the categories range from pathetic to excellent, but shortly Krishna
is going to refer to them all as honorable. If we look more closely we can see
what he means.
of the good,” is used in contradistinction to the previous verse that spoke of
“foolish evildoers.” As we have often noted, most of us oscillate between doing
good and bad things throughout our lives, despite intending to be good
consistently. When we are distracted by illusion or “embroiled in maya,” we
screw up on a regular basis. We get tripped up by the rotating gunas, and
mistake our imaginings for reality and our selfishness for altruism. Therefore
we should not presume that we are comfortably in the “doers of the good”
category and only far off bad people are the foolish evildoers. What is meant
here by “doers of the good” is those who dedicate their lives to spiritual or
edifying purposes, while “foolish evildoers” are those who don’t. All of us are
first category of seekers of truth is the distressed, and Arjuna himself is an
excellent example of it. For many of us, only when the house of cards we have
carefully constructed crashes down do we turn inward to seek salvation from our
limitations. Our health might fail, or a loved one die or become seriously ill.
We lose our job and worry about homelessness. We discover we have been living a
lie, or barely living at all, and we suddenly confront the emptiness of the
life we are caught in. Our self-respect is shattered when our props are knocked
out from under us by such circumstances. When things like this happen, the
majority of people try to find ways to reconnect with the ordinary course of
life. But the one in a thousand who “strives for perfection” looks inside to
seek the Absolute, usually under one of its many pseudonyms, like God, Allah,
Jehovah, Shiva, etc. We make a bargain with our favorite form of God: “I will
do anything you ask, if only XXX can be rectified.” “Please make XXX well, and
I’ll spend my life worshipping you.” You’ve probably done something like this
yourself, so I don’t have to list any more examples. Even inveterate atheists
call on something like this at times. They might name it Chance or Luck or the
Unknown, but it’s the same thing. Inwardly we all pray for a lucky break.
Krishna assures us, in whatever way we relate to the Absolute, it responds in kind.
Luck can save as efficiently as Jesus, and it often does. In some way,
motivated by distress we pray inside for a connection with a higher power. Who
knows if it is just a part of our unconscious, or an actual divine being we are
visualizing? And who cares, if what we imagine works. To the degree it is
possible, a dialogue with the mystery under any name makes a difference. It can
bring us back to life, wake us up to a wider purview.
lot of people hope for bizarre miracles, based on symbolic allegories found in
scriptures, and that can lead them into massive self-delusion. Sorry folks:
natural laws are as miraculous as it gets. Raising the dead is about spiritually
restoring people to life,
not reanimating corpses. Restoring sight to the blind is about bringing back spiritual
vision. Some medical
operations can actually restore lost senses, vision especially, though recently
hearing too, but that isn’t what the stories are talking about. They are
dealing with reconnecting with the Absolute to reanimate the corpse of what was
meant to be a life. Your life.
the drive to know the Absolute because of distress is sustained, it is as good
as any of the four types of seekers. But frequently the desire to attain the
Absolute wanes as the immediacy of the tragedy wears off and the normal routine
is resumed, which is why the category of the distressed is not rated as
excellently as the wise, who remain ever united with it.
of knowledge” refers to those of us with an unquenchable curiosity. The challenges
of life have convinced a part of us that by understanding what is going on
better, we will have more fun and avoid some tragedies. Life is a great game if
we know the rules. We discover we have been punished or at least restricted
under a system of half-baked beliefs that don’t hold up under logical analysis,
so we want to find something that makes intelligent sense, to hitch our wagon
to. I remember my infinite frustration as a child, wanting to know Why things
were the way they were. My father would always tell me, “Because I said so.”
That was the end of the argument, and it drove me nuts. I was willing to go
along with any rules, as long as I understood why they were in place. But most
rules are arbitrary or have veiled purposes. Religions have the same mulish
bottom line: “Because God said so.” “Because that’s the way it is.” That whole
attitude is so frustrating! These are not reasons at all, they are unquestioned
assumptions. They are used to disguise an inherent inequality or injustice.
Intelligent people want intelligent reasons for things, and asking questions
does not automatically imply rebelliousness. Eventually though, in normal life we
become pacified. We learn to accept the dictates of our family or religion and
stop asking uncomfortable questions. The questions are uncomfortable because
the person we’re asking learned in their turn to stop asking the same things
and just accepted what they were told. They fear they will lose their insecure
footing if they readmit their former curiosity into the picture. After all,
“curiosity killed the cat.” There’s a fine adage to get kids to shut up and
deny their natural urge to wonder.
here Krishna is welcoming seekers of knowledge to question and to doubt,
because they lead you to grow, to refine your relation to life. But if
knowledge in the form of piling up bits of information becomes your modus
operandi, then it is another form of death. We must not stop when we have
replaced an inadequate formula with a better one. Our quest should take us to
the highest plane. Of course, if we stop part way, our rewards will be
perfectly proportional to how deeply we’ve delved. Almost all of us stop part
way, once we find our level of satisfaction—or our level of incompetence per
the Peter Principle. Ergo, this category is listed as second best.
third category is a little problematic. “The seeker of the goods of life”
sounds like those enamored of possessions, which is categorically denounced by
the Gita. This is evaded in several translations by saying things like “seeker
of the good,” “seeker for good in the world” (Aurobindo), or those desiring “to
serve humanity” (Easwaran).
word in question is artharthi, which
MW translates as “desirous of gaining wealth, desirous of making a profit,
selfish.” The artharthi is one whose
goal is arthartha, which means
“effective for the accomplishment of the aim in view,” getting us closer to
some meaningful sense. Both come from a doubling of artha, with its wide range
of meanings, including ‘meaning’ itself. Also “aim or purpose; cause, motive,
reason; and substance, wealth, money.” Artharthi begins to look like “those who
find meaning or purpose in being skillful at what they do.” Artha is
undoubtedly the source of the word ‘art’, along with its relatives like ‘artifice’.
My Random House Dictionary describes art as “the quality, production,
expression or realm of what is beautiful, or of more than ordinary
significance.” I love dictionaries! How hard is it to define a word in the most
cogent and succinct manner? And they do it as a matter of course. They are very
artful at what they do. A relevant definition of art is the ninth: “skill in
conducting any human activity.” I think this gets us to the gist of the artharthi,
who thus becomes a seeker of skill in the conduct of life. That does indeed
seek the Absolute to make us skillful and excellent in our daily life. Once
again this can have an upside and a downside. It may benefit the world and our
place in it, or we can indulge in a lust for power so we can stand out,
heightening our ego and doing damage to our surroundings. When Krishna calls
this class of seekers honorable, he is of course referring to the former type.
are easy to write off, but many of us engage in a subtle version of it to some
degree. An important motivation for many people in spiritual life is to become
highly knowledgeable about their chosen religion or practice, in the belief
that other people will admire them for it. Secretly we doubt ourselves, but we
think that if we just learn enough about a subject and can remember it, people
will be drawn to us. We don’t believe we are special but our favorite teaching
is, so we adopt it as our stand-in. We don’t so much lust for this type of
power over others as long for it, impelled by the sadness of a neglected soul
that craves love but doesn’t get enough. It is not necessarily a bad thing, if
the resulting stature is handled wisely, but because it exacerbates a schism in
the psyche between who we are and who we want to be, it has the potential to go
awry. In any case, it is sad whenever a person longs for love but has a hard
time finding it.
the wise are intent on the Absolute because that is the very nature of life.
They see that all are one, and doing good is the most natural response to such
an awareness. There is an infinite potential to foster happiness, understanding
and joy in living through meaningful participation with the people and
situations you come in contact with. With so many possibilities, why languish
in confusion? Perfection can only be enhanced by participation. Mistakes are
opportunities to learn and improve, not occasions for chagrin. The wise are
motivated by the needs of the whole picture, not by selfishness, and this puts
them at the top of the list.
these, the wise man, forever united and unitively affiliated with the Absolute,
excels, for dear to the utmost limit am I to the wise one, and he is dear to
is a lovely sentiment, and an acknowledgement of the superior status of wisdom
indicated in the previous verse, but we should temper it with Krishna’s
assertion in IX, 29: “I regard all beings equally. To Me there is none hateful
or dear.” Both of these are true, by the way. The Absolute regards everything
as equal, and yet within that equality there are grades of excellence. It’s one
of the more elusive paradoxes to grasp in this business, but also one of the
most important. It answers the pressing question “Why should I care?” and its
corollary “What should I do?”
the dearness marks the affinity of a unified attitude with the Absolute. The
first three types had grades of selfishness or self-interestedness in regard to
the Absolute, which necessarily produce duality. The wise have no incentive to
separate themselves from who they are in essence, and so think and perform
actions unitively. They do not seek boons of any kind, being simply motivated
by the joy of admiring and participating in life.
are all these, but My firm opinion is that the wise one is the Self itself. He
of unitively established Self indeed remains in My path, which has nothing
Guru notes that “honorable” is mentioned in the sense of damning with faint
praise. Expanded, the word implies something like “Yeah, sure. Those inferior
attitudes are all right, but the correct
attitude is….” In verse 23 these peripherally honorable folks are referred to
as having little intelligence, making the snub as clear as it needs to be. They
are honorable because some circumstance has pointed them toward the Absolute.
The wise, though, are wise precisely to the degree of being aware of their
unity with the whole. They do not need to be goaded into it.
can read this as Krishna urging Arjuna (and therefore us) to go for the highest
wisdom, and not to be satisfied with mediocrity, which is a legitimate
exhortation for a guru to employ. A little poke from a pitchfork in the rear
end can stimulate a remarkable clarity of mind sometimes. We should not need to
have any sort of reason to affiliate ourselves with the Absolute: doing so is
simply the best thing that can be conceived of. In yoga we are trying to break
free of all extraneous motivations to allow our inner impetus to come through.
many births the wise man attains Me. Such a Great Self, thinking Vasudeva to be
all, is rare indeed to find.
another name for Krishna, similarly stands for the Absolute. When seeker and
sought become merged as one, duality is abolished, and nothing is seen anywhere
but the Absolute. It is easy to imagine that this is a rare event, as expressly
mentioned in verse 3 earlier in the chapter.
problematic aspect of this verse is that it can be taken to imply that
realization is the end product of a long series of struggles, which goes
against a core principle of Advaita that realization is independent of causal
popular picture is of spiritual seekers growing wiser in the course of many
millions of lifetimes, with a culmination of unity with the Absolute after the
last. Spirituality then becomes a kind of race that invites odious comparisons
between participants. While this appeals to our sporting blood, it seems
relatively trite compared with the profundity of the wisdom teaching Vyasa is
offering us. Still, there is something to it. If we totally rule out learning,
spiritual striving makes no sense. There has to be an element of transition
implied in it, so long as we are already mired in duality.
preferred interpretation of reincarnation as presented in the Gita, is that
repetitive, habitual actions are repeated “incarnations” or manifestations of
certain mindsets. If we accept that “many births” refers to the various
attitudes we adopt at different stages of maturity, then Krishna is saying that
a wise person is one who has thought through many challenges to arrive at an
optimal assessment of the nature of reality. The distressed, the seekers of
knowledge, and the seekers of expertise all have to progress through a
hierarchy of increasingly refined attitudes before they can rest easy in a
unified state. Essentially they have to relinquish the selfish aspects of their
thinking, from the obvious ones to the many subtle layers beneath. And this is
Guru feels that this verse establishes a link with the Bhagavata religion that
became popular around the time of the Gita’s writing, and is a nod toward its
doctrine of ecstatic worship of a God Krishna, which is unabashedly dualistic.
Additionally he thought (as I do) that “many births” would be better expressed
as “long experience.” That sounds more satisfactory: “After long experience the
wise ones attain to Me.” The Guru’s comments are quite germane here:
Krishna in the Gita represents
the Absolute, and the man of wisdom, when he sees the whole of this universe
and the Self as being unitively comprised in the Absolute as represented by Vasudeva,
the superior Guru of this teaching, becomes finally and unitively established
in wisdom, without any trace of duality between disciple and Guru—not to speak
of worshipper and worshipped….
To see the principle that makes Vasudeva represent the
Absolute is a very rare possibility of mahatmas
(great Selves) alone. Not only is such a mahatma (great Self) rare to find in this world at a given time,
but such a perfected one of supreme wisdom must be the product of a long
experience, when we speak of it in a workaday language. (337)
noted earlier, reincarnation is a speculative doctrine with many weaknesses.
For it to be useful we should remember our past lives, but we don’t seem to.
Most claims to the contrary look a lot like wishful thinking, or even outright
insanity. We shall discover what is in store for us when we die, and whether we
retain consciousness beyond death, but it is foolish to pretend certitude in
the face of such paltry evidence as has so far come to light.
primary weakness of a simplistic idea of reincarnation is that it leads us to
think that there will be millions of lives yet to come, so there is no need to
do anything now. All will be taken care of in due time. That amounts to an
abdication of our opportunity to realize truth here and now, which is the real
doctrine of Vedanta, and it coaxes us to accept unacceptable conditions. As
such it resembles religious beliefs in heaven, which have the same effect of
pacifying a servile class, and denigrates the wise one to the level of the
lesser categories of either the distressed or the seeker of the goods of life
mentioned in verse16. That is most certainly not what the Gita has in mind.
wisdom distracted by such or such (other) desire counterparts, they attain to
other divinities, committed to various obligations belonging to each, prompted
by their own particular nature (in each case).
Krishna starts referring to those who follow a vision of less than pure
absolutism. It is important to note the abrupt change from the ideal seeker he
has been praising to the relativist versions he is criticizing. It marks the
difference between pure spirituality and formal religion.
have definite patterns that determine their existence, which their votaries are
required to adhere to. Religious attractions require certain rules to be
followed, and these subtly divert the true believer away from a unitive vision.
In the vast majority of cases, following rules sooner or later puts an intrepid
intellect to sleep.
a compensatory universe, what you give and what you get, what you believe and
what you see, have an innate correspondence. The Gita appropriately calls these
pairs “desire counterparts.” By contrast, the unalloyed Absolute has no such
limited requirements, and its compensation is equally unlimited. The very fact
that it is “without form and void” prevents it from becoming an object of
section beginning here and extending through verse 23 is notably similar to IX,
20-23, and curiously even their numeration is the same. The thrust of both is
that attuning the whole consciousness with the Absolute is perfect and all that
is necessary, but the majority of seekers of truth fall somewhat short of this
exalted ideal. They choose instead a form with certain definite characteristics
and related rituals—-what are called in shorthand a god and a religion. And
let’s not leave out the religion of Science and its god of Nature, or the
materialist gods of wealth, fame, erudition, sports, the arts, and the like.
Any such religion or path cordons off certain areas and highlights others, so
that the benefits are commensurate with the limitations. Let’s face it, though:
this can be a blessing as well as a curse. Giving shape to one’s beliefs can be
beautiful and can energize many excellent activities. Artists become great from
“worshipping” and practicing their chosen art form. The sad testimony of
history, however, is that specialization just as often produces conflict
between adherents of different forms and nomenclatures. It is appropriate that
Krishna reminds us that, philosophically at least, this is second best. Unitive
connection with the Absolute is best. If any partial aspect is selected, no
matter how excellent, it automatically becomes dualistic, demoting us from
impartiality. Only neutrality avoids pairing downsides with upsides.
Gita’s all-embracing attitude is that if we are aware that we almost always
focus on a partial aspect of the whole, and that everyone else does too, we
have no need to fight over who is “right.” We can accept and appreciate the
slice each person selects as unique and particular to them, even while using it
as a reminder to strive to go beyond all limitations. Your god is right for you
and mine is right for me, but the best is to simultaneously know and relate to
what is beyond them all.
XII deals definitively and practically with the question of how to worship or
focus with impartiality. It is a question that does not require an answer, but one that motivates us to continually revise
and refine and expand our vision. An
answer would mean becoming frozen in some stage of the journey. The Gita
exhorts us to continually melt the ice of static ideas with a fresh influx of
whichever particular form such and such a devotee with faith wishes to worship,
each to his own faith I confirm.
Absolute is fully reciprocal, so output exactly matches input and vice versa. Here
we have the Gita’s version of the Golden Rule, found throughout the world, and
not excluding the Golden Rule according to physics: for every action there is
an equal and opposite reaction. The Absolute is not changed in any way by the
reciprocity, it is merely the ground where actions and reactions counterbalance
each other. Thus “The all-pervading One takes cognizance neither of the sinful
nor the meritorious actions of anyone.” (V, 15)
key implication here is that the devotee should intelligently decide what to
worship. Most of our important choices are not made freely: we are pressured
and cajoled into them, and we acquiesce without considering the ramifications.
A major portion of spiritual practice is to weed out the exterior forces that
we have substituted for self-determination. We believe we are choosing freely
when what we’re really doing is experiencing the relief of going along with the
crowd. Reclaiming our integrity may well be the single most important step we
can take in life, as well as the most challenging.
true teacher would say theirs is the only way, but charlatans don’t have a
problem with blowing their own horn. It’s a tried and true method to entice
good-hearted souls into joining a mob. A certain way may work for some particular
person, but the Absolute is so munificent as to endorse every honorable path
that anyone chooses. Dishonorable ways too, though they lead to dishonorable
ends. The world is sprinkled with wise folks with much to offer, so fear not
that there is some arcane “right” way, and just act according to your best
comprehension at the time, combined with whatever assistance you can obtain
from those around you. Fear of making the wrong choice is a holdover from being
punished as children for disobedience. Krishna would have us transcend that
helpful way to look at reciprocity with a neutral entity is in the way observers
interpret abstract art. Take a complex piece of music, which is probably the
most abstract art form that humans regularly create. If it isn’t program music
that narrates a story, it may have no particular “meaning” even to the
composer. It just “is.” Yet everyone will get out of it, precisely in
proportion to the energy they put into it, an experience commensurate with their
understanding. An atheist may hear an evocation of the emptiness of existence,
while a religious person might hear a stern god instructing his followers or a
loving god beckoning, and a scientist an ingenious description of the natural
world. A depressed person might hear angst, or else a soothing voice calling
out, while someone in a happy mood might find the music humorous and
lighthearted. No two will have exactly the same impression, and their reactions
may well differ at different stages of their life, or even two different
performances, depending on their state of mind. None of the interpretations is
especially right or wrong: some may be more sophisticated or intense than
others, but the response tells us more about the listener than the original music.
In this sense art acts as a mirror for the soul.
music, or any blatant art with an “obvious” message for that matter, still
leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The parameters are narrowed, but they
are never totally rigid and fixed. There is far too much variability in the
human psyche for anything to have one simple meaning for everybody. And even
more than with art, religion is a reflection of the desires and level of
understanding of the votary. The Gita is wholly open and tolerant about our
unique perspectives in all fields. The universe was made to celebrate
diversity, not to enforce uniformity.
endowed with that faith, seeks the worship of such a one, and from him obtains
his desires, the benefits being decreed by Me.
need to remember that Krishna is speaking deprecatingly of those who fall short
of the ideal here. Many commentators, mesmerized by terms like ‘faith’ and
‘worship’, make this and the previous verse out to be expressions of praise.
They totally miss the point. Seeking and obtaining our desires, even those
symbolized by the gods, is the major diversion from being open to the inner
guidance of our true nature.
is by no means “Our God is better than your God,” which tends to characterize
religion, and which was actually publicly proclaimed by a top-ranking US
general in Iraq a few years back. The one God in all religions is the Absolute
until proven otherwise. Different languages quite naturally have different
names and concepts associated with it, that’s all. Any God that isn’t
all-inclusive is a lesser god. Here Krishna is speaking of the lesser gods, who
when worshipped with faith provide benefits that are less than absolute. He is
trying to direct us away from such lures and toward the ultimate.
is helpful to think of this in terms of one of the non-religious gods, to avoid
the defensiveness usually appended to matters of faith. A good example is the
god of wealth. It is worshipped by many people, who dedicate their lives to its
propitiation. Its devotees follow certain rules of business or exploitation,
legal or illegal, always keeping faith with their goal, which is as immaterial
and mysterious as any god: an endlessly receding mirage. Day in and day out
they fashion their lives to strive to obtain what they imagine they want, which
is why such activities are called “pursuits.” And of course tangible wealth,
the “benefit” of the worship, is famously terminable for most people, as
Krishna reminds us in the next verse. The real clincher is that when one
obtains wealth it does not automatically induce happiness, or wisdom. It may display
a lot of outward evidence, like a big house or fancy clothes, but it is not a
magic formula. It is only what it is, nothing more. The benefits as decreed by
the reciprocity of the Absolute are always less than what the worshipper
imagined, goading them to further entanglement.
often, the disappointed worshippers of lesser gods blame themselves for the
failure, rather than the goal itself, and redouble their misdirected efforts.
They imagine that more wealth will
make them happy, or more service, or more time in the temple, more prayer, more
exercise, more practice. This notion is what’s categorized as “small
intelligence” in the next verse. In place of the inner reorientation taught by
the Gita, away from the terminable and toward the eternal, they seek a harsher,
more stringent version of their original myopic vision. Instead of giving up
they become fanatic, and often turn the blame for their failure toward others before
they are finished.
indeed is the benefit accruing to these of small intelligence; sacrificers of
the divinities go to the divinities, but My devotees surely come to Me.
is ample proof that Krishna is not a mere divinity. He can only stand for the
Absolute, otherwise he would have to be included among the lesser divinities
sought by those of small intelligence. History records numerous Krishna cults
comprised of those who didn’t grasp the distinction.
any religion there is a smattering of mystics who seek the transcendent form of
their chosen name of God, and a great multitude of those who seek particular
favors from a lesser concept of God, who in such a limited form becomes a mere
divinity to be propitiated.
children are taught to behave according to the whimsies of their caregivers,
they learn early in life to abandon their personal integrity and do what
they’re told. Unfortunately this attitude often persists well into adulthood,
where it can ally itself with all manner of hooliganism. True adults are those
who have made the transition from childhood and taken up the cross of guiding
their own lives, but these are few and far between. The Gita is encouraging us
to add one more to the world total of free souls by becoming independent
ourselves. The alternative is to remain trapped in eddies of consciousness,
stagnating, or worse: becoming a member of a sect loudly proclaiming its
affiliation and wanting to eradicate anyone with a different set of beliefs.
is not mere prattle. Alice Miller, a psychologist who has studied fascism in
depth, determined that the most important precondition to the social acceptance
of oppression was the teaching of obedience to children. Kurt Vonnegut agrees.
In Timequake, (p. 42) he writes, in
respect to World War II, “I asked the late great German novelist Heinrich Böll
what the basic flaw was in the German character. He said, ‘Obedience.’” Among
many fundamentalist religious types the enforcement of blind obedience amounts
to a mania. Sadly, it invariably invokes a static conception that leaves the
obedient one a mere empty shell, unable to cope with matters outside of a
fortress mentality. He or she becomes a mere “sacrificer to the divinities,”
kowtowing to idols and keeping well clear of the living spirit. Catholic
theologian Thomas Aquinas gave a strong motivation for not accepting the
assertions of authority when he said, “True and false will in no better way be
revealed and uncovered than in resistance to a contradiction.”
has its share of fundamentalists. Radhakrishnan writes, in his Gita commentary,
Blind obedience to an external
authority is repudiated [by the Gita]. Today there are several teachers who
require of their followers unthinking obedience to their dictates. They seem to
believe that the death of intellect is the condition of the life of spirit.
Many credulous and simple-minded people are drawn to them not so much by their
spiritual powers as by the publicity of their agents and the human weakness for
novelty, curiosity and excitement.
This is as true in politics as religion, as history
a reciprocal universe you find what you seek. Therefore we are enjoined to seek
the most universal, unlimited, free conception, which is merely epitomized as
Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
persons consider Me as the unmanifest come to manifestation, not knowing My
supreme existence (value), unexpended, with no superior.
case there is a possibility that Arjuna or a reader of the Gita might mistake
Krishna the charioteer for the supreme Absolute, Krishna lays down an
unequivocal distinction. He is God in the sense we all are God; moreover, he is
an able spokesperson for It. He is a guru nonpareil. But for us to think “This
here, this person, is the Absolute,” or even “he is a god,” is off the mark.
an easy mistake to make. When we are touched by a sense of the numinous and our
spirit soars, the immediate impulse is to worship the external source of the
contact. This is totally understandable. It only becomes absurd when it is
continued over time, bringing about the birth of yet another religion, yet
another version of God to plague humanity. The antidote is implied in the words
“unreasoning persons” do this. This tells us that reason, which is the
technique of yoga according to the Gita, must be brought to bear. If we don’t
add this dimension to our understanding, we’ll be stuck with a limited vision.
And when the initial impact wears off, we’ll spend the rest of our lives trying
to get it back via the static conception we have formulated of it. It’s a
recipe for failure.
Guru provides a cogent analysis of this very deep and baffling verse:
Verse 24 here enunciates the
overall character of the Absolute in terms of manifestation and
non-manifestation. The verse admits of four possible ways of ruling out
predications about the Absolute.
First it denies that the manifest is the
Absolute, though derived from a prior unmanifest. Second, it rules out the
theory (which is more philosophical) that the unmanifest is the Absolute,
although it attains to manifestation as the visible world. Third, it rules out
the position where a philosopher thinks that the manifest and unmanifest are
dual aspects of the same Absolute, a position which Shankara… has taken so much
trouble to refute. Fourth, as a final residue there is the possible predication
which states that the Absolute is an entity to be included among entities
abstract or concrete which the mind is capable of conceiving statically or
existentially. Here the Absolute is not to be thought of as a thing at all. The
Absolute belongs to the unique order of the Absolute itself which has nothing
in common with things or entities, however subtle or perceptual they may be.
The Absolute is the supreme and therefore above all, though comprehending all.
Nothing can therefore be predicated of it, but everything that is predicated
derives its reality from it.
Absolute is simultaneously the supporter of all and the Beyond, and in fact the
relationship of manifestation to the unmanifested is the supreme mystery as
well as the theme of this chapter. Seekers of truth must contemplate the
Thisness of the Guru (or Nature or Friend), and the Thatness of the Unmanifest,
and unite them in the heart. Only then can they come to know the Absolute in
full, without a bifurcated vision.
am not revealed brightly to all; shrouded as I am by the illusive effect of
negative reality, this deluded world does not know Me, unborn, unexpended.
“illusive effect of negative reality” is maya, here termed Yoga Maya. Maya
refers to the innately baffling nature of creation. It’s what keeps us on an
infinitely long learning curve, instead of just knowing everything at the
Source of everything is not easily revealed through its creation, because our
minds are caught by the stupendous exhibition of burgeoning reality as it
bursts into being. After all, according to quantum mechanics as well as ancient
insight, our entire universe is being emitted every microsecond. Comprehending
it is like trying to climb up Niagara Falls: we are battered back down by the
sheer volume spewing over the lip. If we are to ascend to the Source we have to
transcend the influence of the welter of perceptible events that have totally
saturated our attention.
why maya is here called Yoga Maya is anyone’s guess, if you read the various
commentaries. Shankara thought this meant the union of the three gunas, and
this makes sense, as Krishna has already exhorted us to transcend them.
Nataraja Guru thought this:
[In Yoga] there are two poles to
be distinguished methodologically. These poles interact and, to the extent that
duality persists in the product of this bipolar interaction, it only succeeds
in confounding. Thus this form of yoga
(union) tainted by dualism, tends to confuse our judgement in regard to the
supreme value of the Absolute. In this sense maya (illusion or error-principle) and yoga (union) go hand in hand to defeat the purpose of wisdom.
It’s a good point, but possibly stretches the original
intent. We can only add our own speculation, or else treat it an elaboration of
plain old maya.
it hasn’t already been made clear, it is valuable to know that the world is
deluded regarding the Absolute. All generally held beliefs and assumptions are
an amalgam of falsehood and truth, and we would be wise to separate the one
from the other before charging off to seek our fortune. The simple version of
maya is that it is the sum total of the imperfections that throw our pure
intentions off course. If we merely “follow our nose,” led by appearances, we
will sooner or later find ourselves in a dark wood.
is our own choice whether to laugh or cry over the tragedies of life engendered
by maya. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream, the amusing aspects are highlighted. When Puck, an imp who is the
very incarnation of maya, has bamboozled several simple souls into misdirected
love, he gloats, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” It’s hard to believe
anyone would be so stupid. But then, all of us are. In an infinite universe,
ignorance is inevitable. Puck also provides the magical antidote to wake the
foolish mortals back up to their more plausible wishes. It may well be that
maya embodies our hope as well as our despair.
yogis can’t wait around expecting to be sprinkled with waking powder by a
divine messenger. They do their best to stay awake at all times. That means
pondering their experiences to critically distinguish how falsehood is
perverting their perceptions.
this kind of intelligent discrimination is a lengthy process, wars (both large
and small) tend to be fought by children, who have not had time to confront the
popular falsehoods of their era. Those who survive usually begin the discrimination
process in earnest after they discover what they’ve been coaxed into. If you
are going to manipulate people into worshipping delusory ideals, you have to
get to them early on, as tyrants have always known. Understanding this provides
a powerful incentive for us to seek to penetrate the veil of Yoga Maya as
quickly as possible.
know the beings that are past, present, and to come, Arjuna, but no one knows
truly global vision includes all of time as well as space. Beings of a limited
duration in a specified location have a correspondingly limited viewpoint.
Humans have always struggled to universalize their limited purview, usually but
not always with negative consequences. Instead of replicating a static world
view, we would be better served by opening our small selves up to the totality
as much as possible.
Absolute is not a static entity. Winds of change are eternally blowing through
it in billowing waves of beauty. To be able to respond and appreciate it, we
need tremendous flexibility. Static belief systems are inadequate. Life itself
is therefore the supreme art form. The Bhagavad Gita is an anti-system that
teaches the art of life via individual fluidity in matching ourself to the
onrushing waves of the Absolute.
is no point in stipulating in advance what any experience signifies. That will
be determined moment to moment in each seeker’s life. To give the Absolute a
defined meaning is to kill the spirit and reinstitute dead imagery. Freedom is
the necessary prerequisite for embracing the ever-new flow of joy in existence.
The proof of the pudding comes as an increasing sense of blissful orientation
that banishes anxiety with an intelligently radiant awareness.
oneself in a surrogate parent figure through politics or religion may also be
blissful, in the sense that “ignorance is bliss.” It is for each to decide the
path that suits them best. In the final analysis, our choices are a matter of predilection.
world is filled with those who proudly insist they know God and you don’t. Or
they know truth and you don’t. They all have an air of hostility and aggression
that rebounds on them with repulsion. At heart it is a defensive display. Here
we are being invited to substitute a humble attitude of openness, based on an
awareness of how little we do know and can know. As we gain self-awareness we
can shed the defenses that pervert our intelligence, and adopt a truly
worshipful attitude where all beings, no matter how flawed, are worthy of love
the delusion of the pairs of opposites arising from attraction and repulsion,
all beings, on being created, are subject to confusion (of values).
goes on to explain why we are unable to know unitive reality. I mean, why is
this so difficult? Shouldn’t we be able to just naturally know our own reality?
Why don’t we, then?
newborn infant resides in something akin to a unitive state, if not in a
perfectly unitive one. The radiant glow they emit testifies to the excellence
of the life within, but they are just barely able to interact with our world.
Slowly but surely they learn to respond to their environment and communicate
with it. During the learning process, their original state of oneness with
everything is gradually overlaid with a set of specific relationships with
pleasant and unpleasant objects and conditions. As this development occurs, the
child inevitably loses touch with its core reality and identifies instead with
the passing show of “objects of sense-interest,” which are judged to be good or
bad, useful or detrimental. A dualistic assessment of everything takes the
place of the former unitive acceptance, which in the short term is undoubtedly
essential for the well-being of the child.
of the complex challenges of seeking sustenance and avoiding hazards, it is
usually not until maturity that a person begins to notice the absence of
contact with their core nature. The sense of missing something essential can be
quite painful, as the superficial nature of dualism is revealed. Things supply
our wants, but they don’t nourish our soul. Once the vagaries of the dualistic
outlook lose their fascination, an alternative is sought, but the search is
often misdirected. We need to reconnect with our original unitive state, which
has never gone away, but only languished in the shadows. Reconnection is possible, so
long as the person isn’t convinced that there is nothing but duality. But not
knowing of their blissful inner nature drives many people to despair, with
consequent anxiety or drug addiction or dolorous resignation. The healthier
ones throw themselves into their work or their recreation, imagining that
redoubled immersion in their favorite activities will resurrect their
happiness. Yet the Absolute, being infinitely subtle, resists all efforts to be
nailed down. It can only be accessed by a qualitative, not a quantitative,
happiness is not dependent on what we conceive and perceive, it is the very
substance we are made of. Objects and subjects derive their joyful or terrible
aspects as reflections of our inner state. Thus realignment with the Absolute
infuses what we experience with exactly what we are seeking, and what we
already are aware of in the depths of our souls. The confusion of values
Krishna is referring to is the projection of meaning onto the outer world and
the simultaneous dismissal of our own intrinsic value. We need to turn that
formula around, not only for our personal happiness, but now, it seems, for the
very survival of our species. Our true nature is bliss. We do not need to rip
the earth apart to root it out in obscure places.
and repulsion can be used as measuring rods for distinguishing the unitive from
the dual, as our reaction to events, pro or con, is an accurate measure of how
attached to them we are. Moreover, the attraction to truly absolute values is
not accompanied by feelings of disgust or any emotional letdown afterwards. If
something attracts you and then after enjoying it you feel depleted, guilty or
hung over, you can be sure your attraction was dualistic. By contrast, heeding
the call of the sublime spirit leads to unalloyed happiness, with a lingering
sense of contentment and appreciation. Only dualistic matters have an upside
and a downside.
we want something we are very clever to furnish all sorts of rationales for
having it, which is a further extension of the confusion of values mentioned in
this verse. Our desires infiltrate our intellect, warping it and enlisting it
to offer its imprimatur to dubious undertakings. One doesn’t have to go very
far from home to hear criminals and misfits of all stripes rationalizing a
whole range of dastardly deeds. In the USA presently there are swarms of self-described
religious people cheering for torture, for example. We dehumanize our enemy to
make inhuman treatment acceptable. We cite God’s words in some ancient text to
justify the destruction of our habitat and the fouling of our own nests. The
seeker can and should think of a hundred examples to help them to steer clear
of such avoidable and spiritually bankrupting tragedies, to aid in rectifying
their value system. We can easily imagine the Judaic God demanding, in a voice
like thunder, “What part of Thou shalt
not kill don’t you understand?”
those persons of pure deeds, whose sin has come to an end, freed from the
conflict of pairs of opposites, adore me with a firm resolve.
have always symbolized the purity of the childlike state of unity. Ivory Soap
used to advertise with a baby and the slogan “99 and 44/100% pure.” One of the
primary reasons for the success of Christianity is undoubtedly the
protolinguistic image of mother and child and the deification of said child. In
case that message missed a few who relied more on metalanguage than
protolanguage, it was spelled out in Matthew 18.3: “Except ye be converted, and
become as little children, ye shall
not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The innocent beauty of babies reaches
out to hearts everywhere, with no need for explanation, resonating with our dormant
but still living sense of wonder.
us there is no going back to infancy, but the aim of a spiritual quest is to
reintroduce that youthful unitive state of bliss into our adult awareness. Yoga
integrates the horizontal practicalities with the vertical sublimities, and the
result is expertise.
if it means anything here, is what blocks our purity, in other words the
attractions and repulsions of dualistic understanding. It does not come to an
end by negating every instance one by one, but by a wholesale transfer of the multiplicity
to unity. Speaking of soap, this is the idea where Narayana Guru taught that
you shouldn’t try to wash the lather out of soap, because it never stops
lathering. That’s its job. Just accept that it will have lather, and you’ll be
fine. Like that, the world will always froth and fume. Don’t try to stop it to
achieve peace. That is not how sin comes to an end.
if it doesn’t come across in translation, is an example of Narayana Guru’s
sense of humor. It’s funny, as well as instructive.
mention of firm resolve reminds us that there is effort involved—in this aspect
at least—of contemplation. Potential attractions and repulsions continually
dance in front of the senses, and without concentrated effort they can easily
catch hold of our attention. Intense focus on the Absolute is necessary to
obviate their ability to distract us. This type of transcendental awareness
achieves what the more ordinary, one-sided approach—cultivating repulsion about
we know, sin is not a tenet of the Gita, although it acknowledges its place in
the common dualistic frame of reference. If there is anything like sin, it is
duality. Being free of conflicting pairs of opposites is therefore seen to be
the definition of the end of sin, which is the same as purity. Unitive actions
that do not throw the actor off balance into dualism are pure. One of the
Gita’s main formulas for purity in action is to act without expectations.
who, resorting to Me, strive for liberation from decay and death—they know
That, the Absolute, all that constitutes Self-knowledge, and everything
pertaining to (ritualistic) action.
final two verses introduce a batch of abstruse philosophical concepts that
Arjuna is going to ask for elaboration on at the start of the next chapter.
Being a good disciple he doesn’t just sit like a bump on a log when his guru
reels off some incomprehensible gobbledygook, especially when it bears the
prelude, “Anyone who is seeking liberation (like you) knows the following….” He
is bound to ask for enlightenment about these matters. While it may be a simple
literary technique to continue the dialogue through the teaching process, it
shows how a guru and disciple work together to transmit wisdom. Even if Arjuna
were to say, “Oh yes, I know all about those,” the guru would then ask him to
explain, and then would improve on any weaknesses in the explanation. Any good
teacher would do the same if they had the chance to work one-on-one with a
"Decay and death" in a yogic
context can be taken to refer to the degeneration of mind that occurs in habitual thinking and conditioned behavior, something
we truly can liberate ourselves from.
who know Me, taking together what refers to existential, hypostatic, and
sacrificial aspects—they know Me in a unitive spirit, even at the time of their
the very first verse of this chapter, Krishna promised to present a
“comprehensive” overview of everything of importance in attaining the Absolute.
He has now fulfilled his promise, though the education of his disciple has
plenty more of importance to home in on within that overview. Interestingly,
the entire life span has been covered as well, from the moment of creation in
verse 27 to the moment of dissolution in this one.
sweeps away all pretense, and so is a great teacher in its own right. We all
know people who have been converted by their awareness of mortality from
frivolous or dogmatic posturing to sincere, direct and open lovers of life. As
long as we imagine life is infinite we are prone to take it for granted, but
every moment becomes precious when we comprehend there are far too few of them.
There is so much of value to be learned that we must not waste any of our
golden opportunity as sentient beings through procrastination. And now we are well-instructed
is a favorite term of Nataraja Guru, referring here to devas, divinities as a general group, where other commentators
simply use ‘divine’. In his structural scheme he places the hypostatic realm at
the turiya, the upper pole of the vertical axis. The corresponding lower pole
is the hierophantic, the priests and worshippers who reach upward toward the
hypostatic. Here they are referred to as the sacrificial aspect. Seekers strive
upwards, and grace from above rains down upon them.
is likely that Krishna is mentioning these integral parts of the total picture
to counter any tendency toward complacency on Arjuna’s part. When you have a
great guru teaching you, it is very comfortable to sit and listen. Without any
special effort, you begin to feel like an enlightened being by induction. You
may even imagine you are wise.
suddenly the guru asks you to explain some subtle idea. You experience a rush
of adrenaline, along with a jolt of embarrassment as you cast about for a
response and come up empty. Better not fake it with a canned answer! You are
much safer to realize how much you have yet to learn, and ask the teacher for
further elucidation. If you are clever enough, you can add a small bit of
insight to your request, to show you aren’t completely
stupid. The ever-hazardous spiritual ego is gently tamed in such an exchange.
Consider yourself fortunate if your inflated ego doesn’t require sterner measures