by Swami Krishnananda
As the teachings of the Bhagavadgita proceed on, they begin to unravel different types of mysteries. We have studied the Third Chapter, where reference was made to the gunas of prakriti, and we were told that there are three properties — sattva, rajas and tamas. And we shall be told further that the universe can be boiled down to a still fewer number of powers or forces. The dialectical processes of what we know as the thesis and the antithesis, the position and the opposition of a thing, are the only things we see anywhere. These two aspects of a single force appearing as conflicting parties are known as the ‘daiva’ and the ‘asura’ tendencies in the cosmos, one moving towards the Centre and the other urging externally towards the periphery of names and forms — the centripetal and the centrifugal powers.
There are two impulses within us — to go in, and to go out. We have a desire to enter into the centre of all things and grasp the best of things in the world, the essence of everything. That is why we have a curiosity to know all things, an unquenchable thirst and longing for more and more, endlessly. Our love for knowledge is infinite, it never gets satiated. We wish to go deeper and deeper into the mystery of all things, and freedom is what we ask for, finally. We seek freedom, and nothing else. But we work for bondage vigorously, at the same time, because the other urge also is there working with equal power, in the other direction. We are like a person whose legs are pulled both ways. It is difficult to say which is more powerful, for we are caught between the devil and the deep sea. There is a perpetual battle going on, a war that is being waged everywhere between these two powers, the daiva and the asura, the divine and the undivine, as they are usually known. The universal power of Self integration driving the soul towards the Absolute; and the psychic, the intellectual, the rational and sensory powers urging themselves forward outwardly towards the objects of perception and indulgence — this is the Mahabharata, this is the Ramayana, this is the conflict, this is the friction, this is the skirmish, this is the little fight that we see in the shops and in the streets and in the houses and everywhere. These are the propellers of the wars and crusades of history, these the stupendous meanings behind evolution as a whole. The powers struggle one against the other, and the history of the cosmos is the witness to the success or failure of either of these forces.
The Sixteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita tells us that it is our duty to work in co-operation with the universal power of integration — the daiva, and not the asura. The Asura, or the devilish, the demonical power, is that which pulls us out of ourselves, drives us away from the Self, takes us away from our own Centre, makes the Self the non-self, and converts us into objects while we are the Subject in ourselves. This is the dark power that works in a mysterious manner, moving earth and heaven, to transform everything into an object rather than the subject with a status of its own. The soul within is the representative of the Universal in us. And everything else that is in the form of a vesture covering the soul is a representative of the phenomenal complex of names and forms. We should not under-rate the powers of the cosmos with the impression that we are souls, because the cosmos derives its energy from the Universal itself. Just as a mirror which does not shine by itself can draw sustenance from the light of the Sun and appear as if it is also brilliant, so do our senses deceive us, distract us and tantalise us, by appearing to offer us a satisfaction which they really cannot give. Here, in this awful struggle between these two forces, we are caught in the middle, and it is difficult with the strength of our arms and feet to get over this mire of being pulled equally in two different directions; it is necessary to have the blessings of the Guru. In one place, the Gita itself tells us that the only alternative available for a seeker is to approach a competent guide on this path, and by questioning and self-surrender and service and intimate communion with him, attain wisdom. The Grace of God simultaneously works in the case of every seeking spirit which ardently longs for this enlightenment.
Reference was made to the three gunas of prakriti, in the Third Chapter of the Gita, and these gunas, or properties, are mentioned frequently in the course of the teaching. By the time we reach the Sixteenth Chapter, we come to a novel revelation that the whole universe is a play of two forces — the ingoing and the outgoing, powers that urge themselves forward in the direction of the Centre of the cosmos and those that rush outwardly in the direction of space, time and objectivity. The traditional names given to these forces of inward and outward movement, daiva and asura, allow themselves to be translated as the divine and the undivine, the godly and the demoniacal impulses. Now, the terms good and evil, divine and undivine are normally associated with ethical values and the moral assessments in life. But the Gita here rises above the ordinary human concepts of good and evil, or even ethics and morality, and takes its stand on a highly philosophical or metaphysical ground, so that what we call good and evil or right and wrong, etc., become the human readings of meaning into the great drama enacted in the cosmos by these impersonal powers which alternately move inward and outward and compel everything, everywhere, to work according to their intentions, as if everything is a puppet in their hands. Everyone and everything has, thus, a twofold urge within itself. Often, we are inspired and roused into a feeling of self transcendence, a movement towards a comprehensive grasp and a total experience, by an entry into the centre of things. At other times we are also impelled by the other urge, the desire which speaks to us in the language of sense-objects, fulfilment or indulgence of passions, working through the sense-organs, rather than the power of intuition, running away from the essence to the forms outside, so that the more we move externally the greater is our involvement in names and forms; and the farther we are from the centre of the universe, the greater also is the sorrow that follows as a consequence. The more we move away from the centre, the more are we heading towards what we call hell, in the language of the religions; and the heavenly regions are those stages of experience which tend towards the Centre rather than the circumference and the space-time objectivity. These forces work perpetually, without a beginning and an end, and they work everywhere, so that nothing is free from their operations. The evolution and the involution of the universe are the working of these two urges, and no one can humanly understand as to how and why they are operating in this manner. It is a mystery transcending human comprehension, because human beings are already involved in the working of these forces, and how can they understand their intentions? They range above the human intellect and the capacity of the individual in any manner. But, the Bhagavadgita emphasises that it is the duty of everyone to get out of the clutches of these outward-going urges which lodge the consciousness in name and form, and to endeavour to the best of one’s capacity to move towards the Centre which is one’s essentiality, rather than the name and the form. The more we go towards the Centre — and this Centre is everywhere — the less is the involvement of consciousness in the name-form complex, so that, in the ultimate reality of the universe there is no name and form.
This Centre of the universe is not a point as the centre of a circle in geometry. These are words we use for the purpose of human understanding, because our language is limited, words are feeble, they cannot convey the inner significance of these diviner messages. Great mystics run into raptures and go beyond the significance of ordinary language when they say, for instance, that this Centre is everywhere with its circumference nowhere. When it is said that we have to move towards the Centre of the universe, it means we have to move to That which is everywhere, a thing which is enough to make us go crazy, because, what on earth does one mean by saying that the Centre is everywhere? How could a centre be everywhere? It is an absurd statement for all practical purposes. But here is a deep secret which is beyond human grasp and capable of appreciation with a little exertion on the part of our endowments. To move towards the Centre which is everywhere is to merge oneself in all things, to get united with the whole of creation. By the Centre, here, we mean the Self, the Rootedness of all things in the All. The quintessential essence is the Centre. Do not we all regard our selves as the centre of evaluations in life? Do not we consider, somehow, overtly or covertly, that the whole world is an accessory to our own self? Though we are afraid to speak in this manner, lest it should be interpreted as a gospel of utter selfishness, this so-called selfish, distorted interpretation of our own self as the centre of all things is a reflection of a greater meaning which is hidden in ourselves viz., the universality of these particular centres we call the selves. This little self of ours, which arrogantly asserts itself as the all-in-all in this world, is an upstart child of a larger significance which it carries within its own bosom, but which it cannot understand. It is like an ass carrying a treasure on its back, not knowing its worth! Our individual self is like a donkey, but it carries a tremendously weighty wealth of universal meaning and connotation, so that, even on the back of this donkey, we will find something important, and perhaps all that is important. And here, in our own little self, we have the secret of the cosmos; the key to unlock the mysteries of the universe lies within our own selves, within our own hearts, not withstanding the fact that we are behaving like fools and wrongly consider our own psycho-physical individuality as the centre of all interpretation and evaluation. So, there is the devil and the divine essence working together within our own being.
The two urges are working together, one competing with the other, and the practice of yoga is not, therefore, a simple affair. It is hard, because we have to move in the midst of two opposing currents of power, and with whatever understanding we have, it is necessary for us to free ourselves from involvement in the outward-going impulses. The effort of consciousness to move in harmony with the inward-going urges, tending towards the Centre which is everywhere, which is what we call God, the Absolute, is yoga proper. In a traditional and epic manner, the Sixteenth Chapter of the Gita speaks of these two powers, the demoniacal and the divine, with this philosophical and spiritual background of its message. It is, ordinarily, not easy to go with the current of the inward-moving powers. We are, for all practical purposes, phenomenal individuals, with a little touch of the noumenal reality in us. It may be that everyone in the world is not in the same stage of evolution, and each one of us is a judge for one’s own self in discovering as to where we stand in the process of evolution. Our own heart is our judge, and no one else can judge us.