by Swami Krishnananda
We have seen that the occasion for the delivery of the Bhagavadgita was a field of war which is conspicuous in its occurrence in the context of the Mahabharata. As we have observed earlier, the Bhagavadgita does not intend telling us a story for entertaining our leisure hours but to give a permanent message for the salvation of the soul of the human being. That is why it is called a Yoga Shastra or a scripture of yoga. Whatever is said in this scripture is a sermon on the practice of yoga, and the necessity for the teaching arises on account of a conflict in which one finds oneself at any given moment of time in one’s life; and the whole of the Mahabharata is a story of conflict. We would gradually realise that the practice of yoga resolves itself into a simple system of the overcoming and the balancing of forces for the purpose of resolving all conflicts.
The universe moves in two directions, one may say — the centripetal and the centrifugal. There is an outward centrifugal urge of the universe which propels it in the direction of space, time and externality. There is also a centripetal impulse to maintain its integrality of status inwardly, and these two tendencies in the universe represent the character of the whole of nature. And this character that we see in creation is sympathetically reflected in every one of us, so that we are also at every moment of time centrifugal and also centripetal; we have an externalising impulse towards activity, social relationship and contacts of various kinds, and at the same time we have a powerful impulse to maintain our integrality and status, as such. We do not wish to lose our independence in the name of outward relationship or even social welfare. All this is conditioned by a need we feel to maintain our freedom, which we may call our own status. Who would like to lose his status in the name of something else? But, side by side with this impulse to retain our individuality or integrality of status, there is also a propulsion towards externalisation, which also we cannot resist. We run about day-in and day-out demonstrating thereby that a complete inwardisation and maintenance of personal status is not the completion of life. This has to be set in tune or harmonised with the external world, or the universe. While we are bent upon maintaining our independence and status, we are also compelled, at the same time, to recognise the existence of other people in the world, things around us, the vast world in front of our eyes, with which we have to maintain a balanced relationship. While we are, in a sense, in a non-spatial and non-temporal indivisibility which we call the status we maintain, we are also in a world of space and time. We are like a double-edged sword which cuts both ways; or like a person who is pulled equally in two different directions, now one urge preponderating and now the other. The cosmical impulse corresponding to this psychological impasse through which we are passing is designated in the language of Indian philosophy, especially the Vedanta, the Samkhya and the yoga, as the process of the matrix of all things known as Prakriti, a Sanskrit word which means the original substance of all creation. The material of the universe is called Prakriti. It is constituted of certain processes, parts, energies or properties. These are known as sattava, rajas and tamas. The property of tamas indicates inertia, fixity, immobility. Rajas is the name that we give to the impulsion dragging everything outwardly into the space-time-complex and compelling everything to relate itself to things outside. Sattva is the counter-balancing urge which obliges everything to maintain an individuality of internal status, which requires all to maintain a balance and not lose the alignment in the inner layers of personality or the external relationships in society. If there is no alignment in the inward structure of our psyche, we can go crazy, one becomes neurotic and a patient psycho-pathologically. Health is the harmony of the layers of our personalities. If they are disbalanced we are sick physically or psychologically. There is a necessity to maintain inward balance. But that will not do entirely; we have also to maintain a similar balance in our relationship outside. There should be a balanced relationship between ‘you’ and ‘me’, for instance; a balanced relationship with the five elements and ourselves – earth, water, fire, air and ether – the climatic conditions and the many other conditions that constitute what we call the outward life of individuals. There is, thus, a conflict everywhere, cosmically and individually. Life is a battle, a situation which does not require a commentary. It is a struggle from birth to death. It is a process of confronting something or the other everyday, a necessity that we feel every moment of time to resolve a situation that has arisen in front of us. When we wake up in the morning, we are face to face with the reality that confronts us as a conflict. We have conflicts inside and conflicts outside. We are not always happy, because happiness is the outcome of a rare preponderance of sattva-guna, the balancing part within us, and to the extent we are balanced inwardly and outwardly, to that extent we are also happy, delighted and joyous. To the extent rajas preponderates in us, there is a tendency to upset everything — it may be an upsetting of the layers of our own individual personality or the upsetting of our relationships with the outside world. Any kind of upsetting of an existing balance is the tendency to the absence of joy, which is tantamount to an entering into grief and sorrow. The whole of life is an arena of such a conflict. If we read Homer’s Illiad or Odyssey, if we read Milton’s Paradise Lost, if we read the Ramayana of Valmiki, if we read the Mahabharata, we shall find everywhere the same thing presented in different languages and styles, the whole picture presented being the scene of a tremendous conflict, a rubbing of shoulders, a circumstance into which we are thrown unwittingly, the circumstance becoming worse when we have not got the adequate understanding of the causes of the occurrences. Our condition seems to be growing worse because we do not know why a situation has arisen at all, why there should be conflict of any kind. Why should we not be happy always? Why should there not be a balance, a harmony, an equilibrated relationship inwardly and outwardly? We do not know, and nobody can know, easily. But this state of affairs cannot continue for a long time, and we do not wish that it should continue indefinitely. We are not merely entangled individuals; but also individuals in whom is planted a light of reason and a flash of insight which occurs sometimes in our personal lives, telling us that, in spite of the unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves in the world, there is some hope for the better. We do not always entertain a despairing mood of dejection and utter hopelessness, though, occasionally, when the power of rajas, of external relationship, and a loss of inward stability, becomes very strong and overwhelms, we may lose our balance completely. We may not then be even able to think in a right manner. But such occasions are rare; usually we are able to realise that there is justice in this universe, though in moments of intense suffering we are likely to complain against the system of things and find fault with the structure of the universe. But this we do not do always. There are moments of sobriety when we are able to think in a better manner and feel that there is a need for the resolution of conflict. That there should be an urge felt within us to resolve a conflict should be an indication of the possibility of the resolution of the conflict; one cannot entertain merely a hopeless hope. A hope is hopeful, it is not negativity. When we assure ourselves that things will be better one day, in some way or the other, some insight is welling up from inside, and that is the inward status of integrality that speaks to us in the words of a super-physical language.
The epics of the great masters, whether of the East or of the West, are a depiction of the drama of life. It is a play of various circumstances, situations, colours, each looking independent of others, but somehow collaborating to present the picture of completeness, as in a play. The dramatis personae, the people who enact the play, are independent and isolated in their performances. It does not mean that everyone taking part in the play will present the same picture and place before us, an identical situation. Every individual enacting the play is different from the others, has a performance which is distinct from that of others. But the whole drama is a completeness by itself. It is not a distracted chaos. It is a harmony and we enjoy the play. When the whole enactment is over, we are delighted. ‘This is a wonderful performance.’ Thus we go away with happiness. We do not say, ‘This man did this and that man did that, there is no connection between one and the other.’ We realise the connection in spite of the variegated scenes presented in the drama which may run for hours together in the night and the pictures may be completely different if individually perceived. But the wholeness behind the acts is the delighting feature. So is life. Such the intention of the writing of epics.
We are not always in a position to see the wholeness that is behind the pictures in the form of the drama of creation. We are the actors in this great field of activity called the cosmos. ‘The whole world is a stage,’ said Shakespeare, and we are all the people who are acting on this stage, but we are not always conscious that we are playing the drama. This consciousness is wrested out of us by some unfortunate occurrence in us. Look at the fate of a person who is performing one role in a dramatic enactment. Suppose he forgets his relationship with the other performer. He behaves as if he is absolutely independent, and has no connection with the entirety of the play. He does not know that there is a direction of the play. He does not know the intention behind the performance. He is acting absolutely independent, presenting an isolated picture. He would cut a sorry figure and spoil the whole game. This we are doing every day. We are disturbing the game of life, not knowing that we are items in the totality of the dramatic presentation in this grand enactment of the aims of life, of which the Supreme Being Himself is the Director. His vision is the totality of the picture of the drama. The Bhagavadgita takes up this point of view of the completeness that is behind this wonderful picture of creation; and a necessity that is to be there for recognising a harmony in the midst of forces which look like conflicting powers on account of their isolated individualities not related harmoniously one with the other. The difficulty is the excessive preponderance of one of the powers of Prakriti, at some time, on which we lean due to the force exerted upon us by one or the other of them.
Apart from rajas and sattva, the externalising and stabilising powers, there is a third condition called tamas, inertia. In the language of physics you would have heard it said that there are two forces — statics and kinetics, or dynamics. There is no such thing as sattva in science, which is not concerned with it, and perhaps it is not willing even to think of it. There are only two conditions of things: either they are in a state of inertia or they are dynamic and expressed in some form of activity. So we are, and everything is, in one of these conditions, and sometimes in both these conditions, working together in some sort of proportion.