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avyaktaadeeni bhootani vyakta-madhyaani bhaarata
avyakta-nidhanaany-eva tatra kaa paridevanaa ll 2.28 ll
aashcharyavat pashyati kashchid enam
aashcharyavad vadati tathaiva chaanyah
aashcharyavac-chainam anyah shrnoti
shrutwaapyenam veda na chaiva kaschit ll 2.29 ll
All beings come from the invisible beyond, live in this visible world, and disappear into the invisible. Why then weep and wail about them?
It is a wonder that some people see this, the true self! It is a wonder that some others speak of it and again it is a wonder that some others hear of it! But alas! Some do not know it even when they hear of it!
The Indian tradition in teaching is to begin at the highest level and then gradually come down to the lower levels and end at the lowest level. The Gita too follows the same tradition as even a casual reading of the Song of Krishna shows. Thus the second chapter of the Gita where Krishna begins his teachings contains the highest truths India discovered through the search of the rishis over thousands of years – that we are deathless, immortal, indestructible, imperishable, nothing can touch us. And in the eighteenth chapter we have the most mundane things talked about – different kinds of food, different kinds of charity, different kinds of action, how speech should be such that it does not make others anxious, how we should always speak the truth and how that truth should be spoken in such a way that not only does it benefit [hita] others but also is pleasant to hear [priya] and so on. Within the second chapter itself, we find this progression from the higher to the lower wisdom [though towards the end Krishna once again soars into great heights].
As we saw, Krishna began his teaching in the second chapter by discussing our deathless nature and now he has come down to the common man’s wisdom, wisdom that is useful in consoling Arjuna and calming his mind that has been hijacked by his emotions.
When the mind is hijacked, not only does it become impossible to learn the higher truths, even ordinary day to day functioning of the mind becomes near impossible. Arjuna’s mind is in utter confusion at the moment and a confused mind is not ready for the absolute truth, so Krishna has to climb down to the world of lower truths where Arjuna is.
A person deep in the life of samsara has first to be made to realize the true nature of samsara before he can take the journey out of samsara. So long as he is fascinated by samsara, enthralled by it, considers it as the only truth, he is not ready for what is beyond samsara. That is why the rishis say pareekshya lokaan nirvedam aayaan braahmano nasty akrtah krtena tad vijnaanaartham sa gurumeva abhigachchhed samitpaanih shrotriyam brahmanishtham: “After living the life of samsara, examining it and developing dispassion towards it, after realizing the uncreated cannot be attained through actions, must a brahmana humbly approach for the higher knowledge, with samit in hand, a guru who has studied the scriptures and is rooted in Brahman.”
The higher truth – para vidya – is not a theory, not something that can be understood intellectually. It is knowledge that can only be gained through direct personal experience, the experience we call aparoksha anubhooti. And to have that experience, we need a still mind. That is why Krishna is trying to calm Arjuna’s mind by giving him all kinds of arguments, including some very mundane ones.
Indian wisdom speaks of three dimensions of truth – paramarthika satya, vyavaharika satya, and pratibhasika satya.
Pratibhasika [praatibhaasika] satya is comparatively easy to understand for what it is and to free oneself from. It is the rope we mistake for a snake in semidarkness, the shapes we see in the clouds in the sky, the mirage we see in the desert, the mass of sizzling water we see on the dry road ahead of us on a hot day.
Paramarthika [paaramaarthika] satya comes from the word paramartha. Paramartha means the absolute truth, truth as it is, truth that remains the same at all times, the trikala-abadhita satya – truth that is unaffected by the three tines, truth that remains the same in the past, present and future. This is the truth of the rishis, of Krishna, of Mahavira and Buddha, of Jesus, Rumi, Hafis, Al Hallaj Mansoor, Bayazid Bastami and Rubia al-Adaviyya. This is the truth all meditators realize in kensho, satori, samadhi and nirvana, though they speak of it differently: ekam sat vipraa bahudhaa vadanti – truth is one, though the wise speak of it differently. Honestly, this is the only truth.
We are all one in this truth, you and I are not different, neither you nor I am ever born, none of us ever dies, we are not different from existence, we are the truth that sets the universe in motion, the sun and the moon rise because of us, the innumerable milky ways all exist within us, night and day happen because of us, we are every dust particle in the universe, every grain of sand and every drop of water, we are the ananda which every beings seeks, we are all joys and sorrows, we are all successes and all failures. And we are beyond all these, as the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda says: after stretching through everything, it still spreads beyond, atyatishthad dashaangulam. This is what the ancient Sukta means when it says: purusha evedam sarvam yad bhootam yachcha bhavyam sanaatanam. This is the Cosmic Purusha from whose mind the moon was born, from whose eyes the sun was born, from whose mouth the gods Indra and Agni were born, from whose prana Vayu was born, from whose naval regions the space between heaven and earth was born, from whose head the heaven was born, from whose ears the directions were born and from whose feet the earth was born.
chandramaa manaso jaatah chakshoh sooryo ajaayata
mukhaad indrashchagnishcha praannaad vaayur ajaayata
naabhyaa aaseed antariksham sheershnnoh dyauh samavartata
padbhyaam bhoomir dishah shrotraat [Purusha Sukta 13-14]
But at a lower level we have the vyavaharika satya, truth at the transactional level, the level at which you and I live, which truth according the rishis is no more real than a dream. You and I are different from each other here, we are born at a particular time and will die at a particular time, we have a particular name and a particular form; some of us are tall, some short; some are ugly and some beautiful; some are men and some women, some rich, some poor. Our joys and sorrows touch us, our victories and failures touch us, our pains and pleasures touch us, we weep and wail and sing and dance, we fight and make up, we kill and are killed, we become hungry and thirsty, we pass through the six stages that ancient wisdom speaks in such words as asti, jayate, vardhate, viparinamate, apaksheeyate and vinashyati [exists, is born, grows, reproduces, declines, perishes]. As the Mahabharata says, each one of us has had a thousand fathers and a thousand mothers in the past, a thousand wives, a thousand husbands and a thousand children in the past, and each of us has been born a thousand times, has lived a thousand lives and have died a thousand deaths.
All this is true only at the vyavaharika level and none of these is true at the paramarthika level, says ancient wisdom, according to which experiences here are like our experiences in dream – they are all true so long as the dream lasts, but once we wake up, we realize they have all been projections of our mind.
Indian wisdom says that everyone is under the spell of a cosmic power that shows the real as unreal, that shows the one as many, a power that we call Maya, which is also called by another name: prakriti, a word that means the power that creates the many, though in truth there is only one. The word prakriti gives us the feeling that the creation is real and the word Maya gives the feeling that it is illusory, but both Maya and prakriti are the same power: maayaam tu prakrtim viddhi, as the scriptures say – understand Maya as prakriti.
In a famous teaching story in the Bhagavata, the eternal, deathless sage Narada – whose name is explained as ‘naaram, brahmavidyaam, dadaati iti naaradah’, the giver of the highest knowledge – was once with Krishna. Narada told Krishna that he wants to know what Maya is and Krishna told the sage he will do so shortly and suggested they relax under the shade of a tree for while since it was very hot. As they were relaxing under the cool shade of the tree, Krishna asked Nerada if he would mind getting him a little water to drink and Narada straight away went to fetch water for Krishna. He walked sprightly – both because of the burning sun and because he had to hurry since Krishna was thirsty.
Unfortunately for a long while Narada could find no water – no ponds or pools nearby, no rivers, no wells. And he was now perspiring profusely and was himself very thirsty. It was then that he spotted the signs of a village nearby.
He knocked on the door of the first house in the village and it was opened by the most beautiful girl he had ever seen! She looked like an incarnation of womanhood itself – of medium height, slim, of dark complexion, with beautiful teeth, rich lips, thick, dark, curly hair, slender arms, an exquisite nose and glorious eyes that took your breath away. She was the classic beauty, with a slender middle, well-shaped hips and budding breasts.
And when she smiled and spoke, Narada felt he would melt. All his thirst was forgotten, the hot sun outside was forgotten, Krishna was forgotten, everything was forgotten. The words that came out of the muni were not “Can I have some water/” but “Will you be my wife?”
The young woman took a step forward and fell into his hands, her head resting on his chest. The scent of her hair intoxicated him, transported him into worlds he had never known before. He breathed in the scent deeply and time was forgotten, his own existence was forgotten; a strange kind of lightness and happiness filled him, he was now in a world where no cares existed, where he felt all his senses were alive for the first time, where he felt he is fully alive for the first time.
Soon Narada was a family man – wealthy, with a beautiful wife whom he adored, and children of their own.
It was then that the terrible flood came – a huge flood that inundated everything: fields, homes, cattle, the entire village. The roaring flood picked up his wife and children and carried them away shrieking and screaming, his own voice choked in pain as he had never known before. In his despair he collapsed on the ground and just one word came out of the depths of being – “Krishna!” a word that he repeated again and again
“Yes, Narada, I’m here,” came Krishna’s voice. He was still sitting under the tree. “ But aren’t you going to get the water?”
That’s when Narada realized he hadn’t moved one step from where he was standing when Krishna had asked for water and the village he had seen, the girl he had married, the children he had and the terrible flood had never existed.
That is Maya and the life we live is of Maya, It is very real so long we experience it. It creates for us what has never existed. Wise men speak of Maya as aghatita-ghatanaa pateeyasee – the power that gives birth to what has no existence – in the past, the present, or the future.
Just as on Narada, the effect of Maya on us can be so powerful that it can take over our whole life. Under the delusions it creates, we believe in the impossible and run after illusions all our life. In fact, all the life we live until we wake up, all the chasing after name and fame and success and possessions we do, is Maya’s play. She tells us, “Do this and you will be happy and at peace with yourself, get this and you will be happy and at peace with yourself,” and we start the chase, just as a kitten chases a shadow in the hope of capturing it. And just as all our chases are because of Maya, all our fears, all our lust and anger, all our hatred and hostility, all our lust and greed are also Maya’s work. Such is her power that even the wise do not easily escape her.
jnaaninaam api chetaamsi devee bhagavatee hi saa balad aakrshya mohaaya mahaamaaya prayachati
“She, the Goddess Mahamaya, draws by force into her illusions even the minds of wise men.” [Saptashloki Durga]
Robin Sharma in his celebrated book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari speaks of an advocate named with Julian Mantle obsessed with success and kept working for it tirelessly. “For the first few years,” writes Robin Sharma about him, “he justified his long hours by saying that he was ‘doing it for the good of the firm’, and that he planned to take a month off and go to the Caymans ‘next winter for sure.’ As time passed, however, Julian’s reputation for brilliance spread and his workload continued to increase. The cases just kept on getting bigger and better, and Julian, never one to back down from a good challenge, continued to push himself harder and harder. In his rare moments of quiet, he confided that he could no longer sleep for more than a couple of hours without waking up feeling guilty that he was not working on a file. It soon became clear to me that he was being consumed by the hunger for more: more prestige, more glory and more money.”
As an individual Julian suffers – he loses his sense of humour, his wit, even his brilliance and he starts aging prematurely. His family life suffers – “his marriage failed, he no longer spoke with his father, and though he had every material possession anyone could want, he still had not found whatever it was that he was looking for.”
“And then it happened,” concludes Robin Sharma. “This massive heart attack that brought the brilliant Julian Mantle back down to earth and reconnected him to his mortality. Right in the middle of courtroom number seven on a Monday morning, the same courtroom where we had won the Mother of All Murder Trials.”
That is Maya.
All our struggles, all our joys and sorrows, all our gains and losses are within the world of Maya, whether it is the joys and sorrows of family life, the successes and failures and the stress and strain of the professional life or the lying and cheating and backstabbing and betrayals of political life.
And this Maya is difficult to wake up from. Our tradition says that it is only through divine grace that we can wake up from it. Krishna says in the Gita:
daivee hyeshaa gunamayee mama maayaa duratyayaa
maam eva ye prapadyante maayaam etaam taranti te ll
“This Maya of mine is divine and difficult to cross over. Only those who take refuge in me crosses over this Maya.”
But to take refuge in Krishna, to stop the chasing after the world, to awaken to the higher truth, our mind has to become quiet, at least relatively quiet, at peace with itself. And at the moment Arjuna’s mind is restless. And it is to quiet Arjuna’s mind that Krishna says:
avyaktaadeeni bhootani vyaktamadhyaani bhaarata
avyakta nidhanaanyeva tatra kaa paridevanaa ll 2.28 ll
Krishna is telling Arjuna that even if he does not believe that we are all eternal, and instead believes we have a beginning and end, he still does not have any reason to worry about the death of Bhishma etc. “All beings come from the invisible beyond, live in this visible world, and disappear into the invisible. Why then weep and wail about them?” asks Krishna.
Admittedly not a very strong argument, Krishna knows, but he is willing to try even that.
And now Krishna, the master of Maya, adds to his argument a beautiful shloka here more like a soliloquy than something addressed to Arjuna.
“It is a wonder that some people see the true self!
It is a wonder that some others speak of it
it is a wonder that some others hear of it!
Alas! Some do not know it even when they hear of it!” ll 2.29 ll
We are created in such a way that there is no way we can see it. We are so completely deluded by Maya that ordinarily there is no way we can see our true nature. Paraanchi khaani vyatrnat swayambhooh, tasmaad paraang pashyati nantaratman, says the Katha Upanishad: “The creator created the sense organs facing outward and therefore man sees whatever is outside, not his own inner self.” And the Upanishad adds that it is a rare intelligent person – kaschid dheerah – who closes his eyes and sees the inner self, motivated by the desire to attain immortality.”
So it is in the nature of things that we do not see our inner self, we do not even suspect that there is an inner self to us. As far as most of us are concerned, we are the body. If the body is tall, we are tall, if it is short we are short, if it is beautiful, we are beautiful. I am an Indian, I am an Asian, I am a European, a Chinese, and an African – we say these because that is what our bodies are. The body decides whether I am a man or a woman. So completely identified with the body are we, we have forgotten that each one of us has lived innumerable lifetimes in the past – bahooni me vyateetaani jan,maani tava charjuna, as Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita itself, some as men and some as women, some as rich and some as poor, some as beautiful and some as ugly. Maataa-pitr-sahasraani putra-daara-shataani cha, samsaareshv-anubhootaani yaati yaasyanti chaapare, says Sage Vyasa in the Bharata Savitri verse in the concluding part of the Mahabharata – “Each one of us have already had numerous mothers and fathers, numerous wives and children in this world, and we are going to have numerous more.”
Again, to understand that there is something beyond the mind, we need inner stillness. And inner stillness is possible only when we live untouched by what we call samsara. But unfortunately, as the Katha Upanishad teaches us, in the words of Yama, the lord of death and Nachiketa’s teacher in the Upanishad:
na saamparaayah pratibhaati baalam pramaadyantam vittamohena moodham;
ayam loko naasti para iti maanee, punah punar vasham aapadyate me.
“What is beyond the senses does not appear to the ‘child’ deluded and fooled by desire for wealth. He considers this is the entire world, this alone, and there is nothing beyond this – and comes into my grips again and again”
When riches and all that riches can provide you become our life goal, we become blind to everything that is beyond them. So indeed it is a wonder that even a rare person sees the self that no eyes can see, no ears can hear, no tongue can taste, no nose can smell and no touch can reveal because it is ashabdam, soundless, asparsham, beyond touch, aroopam, beyond forms, avyayam, changeless, arasam, tasteless, nityam, eternal, agandham, odorless, anaadyanta, without a beginning and an end.
So very few people indeed even hear of it, and even among those who hear of it, the vast majority does not understand it. Logic does not lead you to that – na tarkena matir-aapaneyaaa, it can only be understood when told by someone who has known it – known not from books but from their own personal experience.
The wise way of living then, says Krishna, is to live knowing that you, the indweller of the body, the dehi, is nitya, eternal and avadhya, unslayable, deathless. And not live a body-centered life.
As the Gita teaches us, trust the wise, trust the teaching of masters like Krishna, and live and act in the world in such a way that we awaken to the reality of our true nature as immortals, what we have to do, make it an offering to the Highest and perform it without attachment and if you do so, you will be untouched by sins, by negative karmas, by negative life scripts.
Play your role in the cosmic drama, knowing it is only a drama. Be an actor – an excellent actor. After all, as Krishna says in the Gita, yoga is excellence in action: yogah karmasu kaushalam. Be a nimitta, an instrument in the hands of the Total, as Krishna asks Arjuna to be: nimitta-matram bhava savyasachin. Be a tool for dharma, a warrior for dharma, a fearless warrior as Krishna wants Arjuna to be. And Krishna’s guarantee is there with all of us: those who do good never come to a bad end: na hi kalyaanakrit kaschid durgatim taata gachchati.
Krishna calls dharma his son. So when you fight for dharma, you are fighting for Krishna.
We live in a world where adharma abounds, whether it is in the world of business, of politics, of administration. Even the medical and pharmaceutical world, which should be the most human-friendly since it is a world dedicated to saving lives, abound in corruption. So, opportunities for fighting for dharma is everywhere. What Krishna is asking us, through Arjuna, is join hands with him in his battle against adharma. It does not matter whether you are an Indian or an American, a man or a woman, young or old, if you do that you will be worshipping Krishna.
In the Gita Krishna says patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktyaa prayachchati tad aham bhaktyupahrdam ashnaami prayataatmanah: “Whatever you offer me with devotion, whether it is a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, if it is offered with devotion, I accept it.” [BG 9.26]
Krishna is not particular what you offer him, anything is fine, so long as the offering is done with devotion.
What can be a better offering to him than joining him in his battle for dharma? Oppose adharma wherever you find it. Oppose corruption wherever you find it. Oppose ugliness, darkness, wickedness, exploitation, ignorance and other forms of evil wherever you find it. Be a dharma-warrior where you are. That is the highest offering you can make to Krishna, the highest form of worshipping him.
The ancient sages call us children of immortality. “Listen ye children of immortality,” they tell us. And what they tell us is that there is no other life worth living, there is no other path worth traveling: na anyah panthaa vidyate ayanaaya.
Transforming our life into constant worship of Krishna through our actions is an unerring path that leads to immortality.
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