by Swami Krishnananda
In the Eighth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita we have an important departure made from the trend followed in the earlier ones, viz., a slight emphasis on the structure of the cosmos, for the purpose of elucidating the fate of the soul after the shedding of the physical body, and also to elucidate the possibility of contacting the Supreme Being in this sojourn of cosmic existence. The questions with which the Chapter commences are ushered in by a statement made by Krishna towards the end of the Seventh Chapter itself.
We are supposed to conceive the ultimate Reality in all its facets — the objective, the subjective as well as the universal phases of its manifestation; as adhibhuta, adhyatma, adhidaiva, param brahma, the Absolute-All. One who envisages the Supreme Being as inclusive of everything that is objective, inclusive also of everything that is personal and individual, as well as what is transcendent, and also what is relational, activistic and social — a person who can visualise the Supreme in this manner has really understood it and knows it perfectly. This was the indicative dictum of the last verses of the Seventh Chapter, though mentioned rather casually. This impulsion to greater secrets stirred up a question in the mind of Arjuna, on the details of the suggestion given concerning Brahman, adhibhuta, adhidaiva, adhiyajna, adhyatma and karma, as well as the fate of the soul after the death of the body.
The way in which we visualise any particular thing is the outlook we entertain in respect of that thing. Usually, we do not have a comprehensive idea of anything in this world. When we gaze at an object or think of any particular thing, we regard it with some sort of blinkers limiting our vision of that object, whereby we ignore certain other aspects which also go to constitute its existence. A mother will look upon her child in a particular manner though that child may be the king of a country. To the mother, the son is not merely a king, there is also some personal relationship there. To a client, a judge in a court is a particular thing, and he is not merely one among the many other human beings. The relationship between the customer and the dealer, and various other kinds of relationship in terms of which we visualise objects, are examples of the conditioning factors in our knowledge. This limitation that is automatically imposed upon the manner of knowing anything gets transferred also to our idea of God, the Absolute, Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, so that it is not infrequently that we look upon God as a father, a mother, a creator, a preserver, a destroyer, a loving friend, a merciful companion, the liberator, and so on. But God can really be none of these, though he is also, no doubt, the all, everyone and everything. The universe of external experience does not stand outside the existence of God. This world of our experience does not exhaust the being of God. The world cannot contain the whole of God within itself, because it is an effect, and He is the Cause. At the same time, it cannot exist outside Him, for it is inseparably related to Him.
The external world consists of the five elements which rarely attract our attention in our daily existence. We do not bother much about the five elements, though they are there as a very important thing before us. The world includes also what we call human relationship and activity in the field of the social atmosphere (adhiyajna), and all agency in every enterprise. The world of physical Nature is what is known here as the adhibhuta, the world of the elements, Nature in its completeness. But, to us, the world of experience is also something else, in addition to the physical elements only. There is a mysterious involvement of ours in our external affairs and this involvement is something indescribable, which keeps us in anxiety, in a state which is occasioned not merely by the existence of the five elements but by the peculiar attitude of people everywhere, among themselves. If we are today cautious and are aware of world affairs, these concerns that are in our minds are not the products of the five elements. We are not thinking of what the earth will do tomorrow or the water or the fire or the air or the sky will be intending to do the next day. The world of activity and the world of concern is the world of human relationship — adhiyajna. And this psychological world occasions activity in specialised directions. This is the world of action, the world of adhiyajna, where we sacrifice ourselves for a particular cause. The motive which drives us into activity of any kind and compels us to maintain relationships with other people is comprehended within this restless field of daily sacrifice and mutual adjustment in various ways.
But we have not yet reached the state of understanding the relevance of the five elements to our personal lives. We are too human and too matter-of-fact in our evaluation of things and, for us, the world of experience is the world of human beings and human relationships, which is all that is important. But if we go a little deep into the details of what we have observed earlier on a different occasion we may remember that any kind of experience by the subject, the individual, of any atmosphere outside, is not possible without the presence of a transcendental element intervening. This Mystery of life is the adhidaiva, the Divinity that shapes our ends, which controls our destinies, which decides every factor everywhere, and which has a say in every matter. It has something to do with every little bit of thing in the world. There is no event taking place anywhere, at any time, without the intervention of this transcendent principle which mysteriously planks itself between the subject and the object, so that, as the great hymn in the Atharva-Veda, addressed to Varuna, says, there is always a secret observer of what transpires between two persons everywhere. One may be in the highest heavens, or in the nether regions, one may be in the farthest corner of the earth, it matters not where one is, one’s secret thoughts and transpirations and feelings will be observed by a subtle principle which is pursuing all things wherever anything be. That subtle being is the adhidaiva, God himself observing all in his own mysterious manner, by the very fact of his being. This is the great Divinity which superintends over all things and all events that happen inwardly as well as outwardly.
Our own self is the adhyatma, the deepest self in us, which, again, is inseparable, ultimately, from the Godhead. It is the essential essence of which everyone is constituted — you, and I, and everybody, and everything. As every little ripple or wave in the ocean is nothing but the vast ocean, the secret hidden at the recess of every individual occasion is the adhyatma, the Atman, the self in us, which is incapable of further reduction, beyond which one cannot go, and beneath which there is nothing. The deepest and bottom-most being of our personality is what is called the Atman. And even as the essence of the wave is the ocean, so is the essence of our own personality the Absolute. And another mysterious term used here in this connection is karma, a word with which everyone is familiar and which is very much identified with action or the result of action. But here, in this Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, it is used in a special sense. The force which causes the emanation of beings is the karma spoken of here, the power which ejects all particulars, every evolute arising from the Central Cause. And all the little karmas that we perform here, your action and my action and anybody’s work, is a reverberation, a sympathetic motivation, a continuation, a reflection or a refraction of this Cosmic Impulse for the great universal purpose. Here is a secret which carries within its bosom an importance of its own. All action is, in the end, a universal action, and it is not ‘your’ action or ‘my’ action. There is, ultimately, no such thing as your activity or my activity. Every rumbling or little noise made by every wave in the ocean is a work of the bowels of the ocean itself. So does the Supreme Will operate through every bit of our actions and even the winking of our eyes. The little breath that we breathe is nothing but the Cosmic Breath pulsating through our individuality; our intelligence is a faint reflection of the Cosmic Intelligence; our very existence is a part of the Universal Existence. The Bhagavadgita is driving us into this great gospel of karma yoga, a principle which we cannot easily understand unless we know what karma is, and why should it become yoga, how it can be a divine aspiration. We are all afraid of karma, we are frightened by the very word, because karma binds, and so karma we do not want, we want to get rid of it altogether. It is the speciality of the teaching of the Gita that it frees us from this fear of the incubus of karma and tells us that karma cannot bind us, and will not bind, if we know what karma is. The metaphysical significance of karma here inculcated in the Gita is that it is the Will of God operating, it is the creative power of the Absolute, that is the visarga, the ejection, the emanation or the proceeding of all things from the Cause of all causes. The answers to the questions raised by Arjuna, stirred by the earlier statement in the Seventh Chapter, are given in these few words at the commencement of the Eighth Chapter.