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God created creation with His thought. Those who think of God are enlightened by understanding. Arjuna bows his whole self to God and asks about various divine manifestations. He asks as to how to keep God constantly in thoughts and which form to meditate upon.
The words of Krishna flow like nectar. With the help of examples of sun, moon, Samaveda, Shankara, Agni, Himalaya, Brihaspati, Skand, ocean, pipal tree, Airavata, Kamadhenu, Rama, Ganga, GayatriMantra, Varuna, Prahalada and Yama, Lord Krishna tries to explain His opulence. Those of us dealing in words, the following words of Krishna hold special value "... among speakers I am the words that are unbiased and in pursuit of the truth." ( Ch. 10 : 32 )
Our words ought to be unbiased and out to be seeking truthKrishna describes women so gracefully, so delicately, so appropriately. My heart fills with love and joy when I read these words. " Of women, I am fame, prosperity, speech, memory, intelligence, fortitude and forbearance." ( Ch. 10 : 34)
God is a woman in all these qualities. The words, the thoughts, the poetry, and the beauty flow and flow. "Of punishers I am the rod of chastisement , of victors, I am the guidance they follow. Of secret things I am silence and of the wise I am wisdom." ( Ch. 10 : 38)
There is no end to the manifestations of God. These are just some examples of His presence and opulence. All power, glory and beauty is but a spark of His splendour. There is so much to God and yet He sustains creation by just a portion of His might. This is such a poetic, symbolic, rich chapter - enrapturing, engulfing, captivating.
At the beginning of the eleventh chapter, Arjuna says that his mind is clear of all delusions. Arjuna expresses his desire to see the cosmic manifestations of Krishna. Arjuna says that of Krishna considers him worthy of beholding the imperishable self of God, then He should show him that form. Krishna grants him the wish. "O Arjuna, behold the entire universe with the moving and non-moving in Me, along with whatever else you wish to see. " ( Ch. 11 : 7 )
Krishna grants Arjuna divine eyes to see the opulence, magnificence and magic of God. Arjuna witnesses the unimaginable vision of thousands of faces of God, all ornamented and garlanded. "If a thousand suns were to rise in the sky all at once, the brilliance might resemble that of the Universal Being. " (Ch. 11:12) Krishna is kind to Arjuna. He is pampering Arjuna like a favourite child. He allows Arjuna to see Him. "Then, filled with wonderment, his hairs standing upright, Arjuna bows his head to the Lord with his palms folded. " (Ch. 11:14)
Arjuna describes how he has seen Shiva, Brahma, sages, serpents, and how he has seen the unlimited form of God with eyes, arms, mouths, and bellies in every possible direction. The timeless form of Krishna with His radiant face and sudarshan chakra capture Arjuna. The prayer of Arjuna is touching indeed. We have to understand that these words are describing something beyond words. Words are our only means to reach out to that power, glory, radiance, benevolence, that "tej" which is beyond words. It is a difficult task but as perfectly performed here as is humanly possible. Krishna shows the army of Duryodhana already dying unto His fearsome form. Arjuna offers his obeisance to the Supreme Lord.
Arjuna again asks a simple yet genuine question which arises in every human heart. "I want to understand You, but I cannot understand Your actions. " (Ch. 11:31). Every single human asks this question at one point of life or other. Why God does what he does?
Krishna answers, "I am time, the powerful destroyer of the world, who has come forth to wipe out everyone. Even without your participation, the opposition will be slain. " ( Ch. 11:32)
The opposition is dead because in this war the opposition is evil. Krishna asks Arjuna to kill the dead. I infer these lines as the evil always already defeated and yet to be defeated by the good. It is only for the virtuous among humans to rise and take credit as God's gift.
Arjuna offers prayers in beautiful words dipped in devotion again and again. "Obeisance to You from front, behind and from all sides. You are boundless might and inexhaustible courage. You pervade all, You are everything. " ( Ch. 11:40)
Arjuna says that seeing Krishna in His fearsome form has shaken him. He requests God to show him His ornamented, smiling, benevolent form.
"Sanjay said: Having spoken thus to Arjuna, the Lord then manifested His four-armed form and unto His gentle, two armed human form and pacified the frightened warrior." ( Ch. 11"50)
Arjuna comes to his normal self.
The twelfth chapter begins with a loaded question by Arjuna. Who is better - the one who worships Krishna (form) or the one who worships the invisible force, the non-form God. Gita directly addresses the question of form-worshipping and worshipping God in the abstract form. Krishna answers beautifully. Both the paths are correct and lead to deliverance. For mortal beings, it is easier to worship form. It is difficult to worship God in the abstract form. Keeping this in mind, form worshipping is advised. One can concentrate and pray easily. Bhakti Yoga is suitable for all. There are many paths. Just following the words of God in action is enough. There is controlling of senses and self. There is the path of pursuing knowledge. Meditation is also one path. One can choose according to one's inclination. "He who nurtures no hate, envy or egoism, who is gracious and compassionate, staying the same in the face of pain and pleasure, who is tolerant, self-controlled, firm in his resolve, fixed in devotional practice and whose mind and intellect are fixed on Me, is dear to Me." (Ch. 12: 13-14)
Krishna says that He likes a person who faces life with resolve and tranquility. The crux is that one should aim at attaining God. The rest of the things are to be taken equally. It may seem a tall order. But my understanding tells me that if we practice just one quality, it leads to other qualities slowly and naturally.
The next chapter begins. "Arjuna said: O Krishna, I wish to know about prakriti and purusha, the field of activity, the knower of that field, knowledge and that which is to be known." (Ch. 13:1)
The human body is the field of activity. The one who knows it is the knower of the field. Understanding the field and it's knower is knowledge. All the emotions, human traits, perception, understanding, discretion, thoughtfulness and steadfastness are knowledge. Whatever is contrary to this is ignorance. What is to be known ultimately? That tatva, Brahman, the nectar of immortality which is both beginning and end less and is beyond cause and effect. This force, this consciousness exists everywhere. "He is the source of all senses though He is free from all senses. He is unattached, yet He supports all beings. He is master of sensory modes, though He transcends all sensory modes." (Ch. 13: 15) Lines flow describing the nature of the supreme force. This chapter is by far the most intellectual of all chapters.
The soul is moving yet immovable, subtle as well as sensory, out side as also inside human beings. Divided among beings yet it is undivided. The supreme element is both the creator and the destroyer. It is the source of all light and is above darkness. It is at once knowledge, knowable and the goal of knowledge. It resides in every heart. One who realizes this, attains God. Krishna keeps emphasizing on the three gunas and how they lead one either to good or to evil. One must understand the interplay between prakriti (material nature) and purusha (living entities). Renunciation, meditation and study are the methods to cherish and practice. Just being in touch with noble words and noble company liberates a human being. One who sees divine presence everywhere achieves transcendental state of being. The soul may reside within a body but is above it. It is the soul which illuminates the existence for us.
The fourteenth chapter begins. The souls is even beyond the first and the last day of existence. Each living entity is conditioned by the three gunas - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is the mode of goodness leading to enlightenment, happiness and knowledge. Rajas is the mode of passion leading to insatiable desires. Rajas is the storehouse of unlimited yearnings and attachments. Tamas brings darkness and ignorance which lead to senselessness and laziness. "O Bharat, the mode of goodness binds one to happiness, the mode of passion to fruitive action and the mode of ignorance binds one to madness." ( Ch. 14 : 9)
Krishna gives such a subtle expression to eternal human dilemma when he says that there is an ever-running struggle among the three modes - goodness, passion and ignorance.
Each element is forever trying to defeat the other two. Our journey onwards (after death) is decided by our state of mind at the time of death. Sattva results in happiness, understanding, goodness and purity. Rajas results in materialism and misery. Tamas is foolishness, delusion and darkness. For spiritual advancement, one should realize that all actions result from gunas. When one rises above all the three, one attains liberation. When one starts treating all beings and all states of mind equally, one goes beyond the gunas. Constant devotional service is the mode of attaining liberation.
The fifteenth chapter begins with the description of the banyan tree whose roots are growing upwards and branches downwards. Krishna says that whosoever knows this tree, knows the Vedas. This tree is an analogy for the material world and its never ending entanglements. We should try to cut ourselves from it. "Those who are free from pride, illusion and false attachment, those who understand the eternal, who have turned away from material desire and are free from the dualities of joy and distress attain that eternal kingdom. Just as the wind carries the fragrance from its source, the living entity carries the soul from one body to another." ( Ch. 15 : 5-6)
God is the sustaining source. In this world, all living beings are fallible. In the spiritual world, all beings are infallible. Besides these, there is God, the supreme source, the super soul, the sustainer, the destroyer, everything.
The sixteenth chapter describes the divine and the demonic nature. "Fearlessness,purity of heart, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, sense control, sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity, virtue, non-violence, truthfulness, absence of anger, renunciation, tranquility, aversion to criticizing others, compassion, freedom from greed, gentleness, modesty, determination, courage, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from hatred, those with divine nature are endowed with these... " ( Ch. 16 : 1-3)
This, in a nutshell, is divine nature and it leads to liberation. "Pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harsh speech and ignorance are the qualities of those with demonic nature." (Ch. 16:4)
Demonic nature leads to bondage.
Krishna emphasizes on cleanliness. People with demonic nature believe that this world is a materialistic play, nothing more. These people are clueless and keep hating themselves and the world. Pride, false prestige, and insatiable lust mark such people. They never rise above sense gratification. Their anxieties never end. Krishna describes the arrogance of the demonic in explicit words. Their religious activities are also superficial. "Those who are envious and wicked, who are the lowest among men I repeatedly cast them into the ocean of material existence. " ( Ch. 16:19)
There is not much hope for these materialistic beings. They will forever be thrown in the ocean of material existence. Not only that they even sink lower into existential order. "There are three gates that lead to hell - lust, anger and greed. These should be abandoned as they corrupt the soul. " ( Ch. 16 : 21)
Escaping these gates of hell, a being progresses on the path of salvation. There is no point in being reckless and impulsive. Doing duty, being conscious, one slowly elevates oneself.
At the beginning of the seventeenth chapter, Arjuna asks about the proper method of worship. Krishna speaks about the three Gunas. Krishna does not recommend severe austerities. His words are strong.
"Those who are engaged in severe austerities not recommended by the scriptures but spurred on by pride, ego, lust and attachment torturing the body as well as the Supersoul living inside are considered demons." ( Ch. 17 : 5-6)
Personally these words are music to my ears. As an Indian woman, I cannot help but being reminded of nirjala ( without water) fasts and the fear associated with them. I have always spoken and written against extreme fasts and the fear psychosis behind them. I feel that my stand is validated.
Krishna also tells how food is life-giving if prepared, given and taken with love. Extreme tastes in food are to be avoided. Bland, tasteless and stale food is also to be avoided. Whatever we do must be balanced. Speech and conduct have to be truthful, purposeful and straightforward. "Satisfaction, peace of mind, silence, self-restraint, purity of thoughts are austerities of the mind." ( Ch. 17:16)
The mode of goodness (Satvic) is the best. Purity of thoughts and deeds without expectations is the best way. Those who worship for material gains are in the mode of passion (Rajsic) . Such people and their joy are unsteady and wavering. Extreme and indiscreet austerities are in the mode of ignorance (tamasic). Similarly charity with a pure heart is in the mode of goodness. But charity done grudgingly and with expectations is in the mode of passion. Charity with impure thoughts is in the mode of ignorance. Krishna says that the mantra "Om Tat Sat" represents Supreme Absolute Truth. The mantra is to be chanted with full understanding when we fully identify with it. Sacrifice, charity or penance done without faith are "asat" (untrue).
Chapter eighteenth begins with a question from Arjuna. He wants to know about renunciation and the renounced order of life and what is the difference between the two. Krishna is so simple and direct in His answer. Throughout Srimad Bhagawad Gita, I found that Krishna is clear and direct even in existential and deeply philosophical questions. He says, "Giving up activities that are based on material desire is called renounced order of life (sanyasa). Giving up the results of material activity is called renunciation (tyaga).” (Ch. 18 : 2)
Leaving an activity and leaving the results of the activity - this is the difference. Krishna gives His expert opinion and says that sacrifice, charity and austerity done without attachment to results are never to be given up.
Krishna says that duty must be performed. Any illusion to renunciation which leads to abandonment of duties is in the mode of ignorance and darkness. Krishna is particular about duty. Duty must be done. There is no running away from righteous activity devoid of attachment to results. All work is good. Action cannot be given up. But, yes, the fruit of action can be and should be given up. This leads to joy.
Lord Krishna is generously giving gems of the art of living life. There are five causes for the achievement of all action. "The five factors for action are the place of action ( body) , the performer, the various senses, the different endeavours and finally the Supersoul. Any action that man performs, by mind, body or speech is a result of these five factors." (Ch. 18 : 14-15)
A person should not take the entire doership on him/herself. We should not discriminate among human beings. All have the same spark. "Action that is systematic, detached and done out of neither love nor hatred and without expecting results is in the mode of goodness." (Ch. 18 : 23)
Duty must be done without attachment to results. Duty must be done with determination and enthusiasm. Duty must be done without egotism. One must be discreet. One must know what is to be done and what is to be avoided and what is to be feared. Those who cannot distinguish between good and evil are in the folly. Some take wrong to be right and vice-versa - such people are the worst. Determination and self-control are cherished qualities. Lust to satisfy senses or irrationally clinging to negative qualities is dangerous indeed.
There are three kinds of happiness that people enjoy. The path of good people seems tedious but ultimately leads to ultimate joy. Those lost in sensory lust get poison in the end. And the so called joys of procrastination and laziness are deadly and destructive. Everyone must do his/her assigned duty properly. Even if the effort does not result in perfection, one must continue to do one's duty. One should act according to one's innate nature. Thus by doing one's duty with self-control and detachment, one can rise above the cycle of karma, the rotation of action and reaction.
Discipline, self-control, determination in being good, leaving lust for sensory gratification, rising above love and hate, spending time with oneself, contemplating, leaving evil qualities - these are the paths of God realization. It is about elevation of a soul from the mundane, ordinary and the worldly affairs. Such a soul with devotion reaches the abode of God. Even amidst worldly affairs, love for God can be practiced. Every activity becomes divine. The focus of life ought to be on God. Ego is a human being's biggest enemy. One must surrender to God. This is knowledge and this is to be contemplated.
"Fix your mind on Me. Be My devotee! Sacrifice for Me. Offer obeisance unto Me. In this way you will surely come to Me. I promise you this because you are My dear friend. Forgoing all religious injunctions, take exclusive refuge in Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." ( Ch. 18 : 65-66 )
This saga of love for God should not be shared with those who are not so inclined. This dialogue of Srimad Bhagwad Gita is pure, auspicious and liberating. Krishna asks Arjuna whether his doubts have been cleared or not. Arjuna assures Krishna that his doubts have been cleared. His memory and mind are intact. Sanjay says that listening to this dialogue Ha has goosebumps. By the grace of Rishi Vyasa , this divine dialogue is available for humanity. Herein lies the greatest yoga of the greatest Yogi, Krishna. Sanjaya is thrilled and is brimming with happiness. The seventy-eight verse of chapter eightheenth is remarkable. It universalises Krishna and Arjuna. Whosoever asks God when in doubt is Arjuna. The voice that answers is Krishna. The verse says that wherever Krishna and Arjuna are present, there will be fortune, victory, wealth, well-being and righteousness. Sincere questioning is important. One should ask with a mindset to get answers. One should not question for the sake of questioning. If there ego in questioning, when one is proving oneself superior through questioning or trying to earn browny points, there will be no Gita. Gita happens when one is ready to listen to Krishna and surrender unto Him.
This has been my reading of Gita. I have not faced any problem in understanding it. I found it straightforward and simple. It was only when Lord Krishna shows His grand self to Arjuna as Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer that I got a bit unsettled. That moment in the dialogue has stuck with me. I cannot hide that it made me uncomfortable.
Thinking about Gita, I realize that it brings the biggest fear of a human being "death" into focus. It constantly talks about death. It is ever so good and helpful that we always remember this reality of life. We take better decisions when we are conscious of our mortality.
Another practical point which we make out of this dialogue is about detached activity. Not being obsessed about results is such a helpful advice. It frees the individual like nothing else. By focussing on process alone, we enhance the quality of our work.
My personal contention is that Gita is not difficult to follow. It is about one step at a time. One small effort leads to the other and then the other. It goes on like this. Control of senses, purity of thought, oneness in thoughts and action, doing one's duty and being detached from results - we can begin right away.
All references in the above paper are from Srimad Baghwad Gita, 9th print 2018, Times Group Books, New Delhi.