by Swami Krishnananda
There are two forces in this world, upon a balancing of which everything functions. They may be designated as the positive and the negative powers of nature, or the subjective and the objective sides of experience. There are two sides for everything in this world: one which receives, and another which is received; that which is conscious of an act taking place, and the object towards which the action is supposed to take place. Philosophically, these phases of experience, or activity of force, are known as the subjective phase and the objective phase.
There is a world in front of you, and you are also there in this world. Right from morning till evening, until you go to bed at night, you are engaged in the handling of this world – the world consisting of anything which you have to encounter, which you have to face in some way or the other, which stares at you as a question, a problem or a task to be executed. The early morning gazes at you as a problem and a series of questionnaires. These are the things to be done in respect of the atmosphere, the environment in which you are living.
The circumstances, the conditions of life taken in their totality, all things that you regard as whatever is to be done or handled, may be regarded as your world. “I live in a world.” This is what you may say to your own self. But what kind of world is it in which you are living? You have in front of you the world of nature: the solar system, the sun, the moon and the stars, the galaxies, space and time, the mountains and the rivers, the forests, the hills and the dales, and the ground on which you are seated. This is the world indeed.
But you will appreciate that your life in this world, which expects you to do something and often forces a hard question, is not necessarily in the mountains and the rivers, nor the sun and the moon and the stars. You are not thinking of them very much. “Today I have to deal with the sun or the moon or the mountain in front of me in some manner. Today I have to handle this Earth. I have a lot of work to do with the forests and the hills and the dales.” These questions do not arise in your mind. The world of nature does not seem to be posing a problem as you would define a problem in your personal experience. When you make statements such as, “I have a lot of difficulty. It is difficult to live in this world,” obviously you are not referring to the world of nature – mountains and rivers, or the trees in the forest. You are not even referring to the animals in the jungle, though they are important enough and you have to be cautious of them. All the subhuman species which you may categorise under the animal, plant, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms do not seem to be attracting your concern so much as something else which you have in your mind when you say that this is a difficult world.
If you psychoanalytically subject yourself to a study of what experience it is that you are passing through in your daily life, you will realise that your adjustments, which you call your work in this world, are concerned with human beings more predominantly than with anything else. You wake up in the morning and prepare yourself for work. Mostly, it may be work in a particular condition where other people are also involved, such as farming, working in a factory or being in an office – all which involve necessary adaptation to human circumstances. All work in this world is related to the existence of people and things other than your own self. This word ‘objectivity’, as distinguished from the subjectivity of your own personality, actually concerns itself with this world which is humanly oriented and externally conditioned. The world of experience is something outside you. Here is the whole problem.
The Bhagavadgita starts with a great human question – a problem that did not appear to be there at all, and suddenly it projected itself into a concrete confrontation under another circumstance altogether. People in an undivided family, for instance, with several brothers involved, may be living a happy life of mutual harmony and adjustable sacrifice. Brothers, as the word itself signifies, constitute a fraternity of affectionate members cooperating mutually in every conceivable way. Brothers are always friends. They cannot be anything other than that. They are cooperative forces. You cannot expect a conflict among brothers; else, they would not be brothers. But apart from the fact that persons are fraternally related in a family, there is another element involved which is often missed in the heyday of our ignorance of the basic relation that obtains between one person and another.
It is not true that conflicts cannot arise between brothers, though the word ‘brother’ is a beautiful word which implies that such a conflict is unthinkable. Because a person is your brother, a conflict should not arise between you; but because of outside factors, conflicts can arise. A brother is not merely an affectionate participant in a family setup. He is also an independent individual.
Here is the whole point. How can two persons be independent and yet be cooperative to the hilt? How can you expect total sacrifice on the part of a person who is also independent like you? If you consider that the other person is not independent, then you also may not regard yourself as wholly independent. If an abolition of independence assumed by persons can be considered as necessary for a cooperative life of sacrifice, conflict may not arise. Even nations may avoid war if it is not absolutely called for. But a peculiar trait called egoism in human nature which is in families, in communities, in nations – a self-assertive principle which will not submit to the call of any other person or any other nation – may set up a new type of environment around you.
Father and son are perhaps the best example of immense cooperation and affection in a family. Yet, have you heard of them going to court for partition of land and not speaking to each other? Father and son are mutually sacrificing elements – biologically, psychologically and even spiritually cooperative to the basic substratum. Nothing can be a greater affectionate bond than that between a parent and a child. But even between these two, there can be a conflict because the child, when it grows up, assumes a kind of natural independence. This is perhaps the reason why in a slightly sarcastic or humorous way, the great lawgiver Manu tells us: prapte tu shorase barse putra mitra-badacharel. It is an instruction to the father and the mother that when their son reaches sixteen years old, he must be considered as a friend and not as a son. That is, you should no longer subject him to your orders.
The world of nature and the world of human society, when it is subjected to an acute philosophical analysis, will present itself in this circumstance of a dual action taking place between the world of nature and yourself, and yourself and the people around you, who are also like you. The Bhagavadgita occurs in the context of a big Armageddon, the Mahabharata war. The interesting phenomenon of the delivery of the Bhagavadgita is that the most sacred thing that it is – a holy teaching connected with God and creation, something which you would like to hear in a sanctified spot such as a temple or an ashram, a university or an academy, a school or a college – is given in the worst of human conditions, called battle. Nothing can be more odious and unsuited for the delivery of a divine gospel than the field of war where minds are tuned up to an immediate and immanent attack. Such a circumstance was considered as the best occasion for the delivery of the divine gospel.
The great work of Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, who wrote the Mahabharata, is not merely a story that you can witness as a television drama, as you have it these days. It is not a novel which you can read at your leisure for your own personal pleasure. It is a study of human nature. It is a history, no doubt, but not merely a political history like the history of England, Europe or India, as you read in your colleges. This is a history of human character, the development of the human psyche, and the ups and downs of human development throughout the process of the march of time – not merely confined to a particular point in time. So you may say this great epic of the Mahabharata is a history of the time process, not the history of India, not the history of the Bharatas. It is the history of humanity as conceivable in the very structure of the time process itself.
The term ‘humanity’ should be understood in the context of the creation of the world itself, and not in the light of the anthropological or the modern historical findings which commence human history sometime after 3000-4000 B.C. The history of the world did not start only at that time; it began when creation itself started. When Brahma created Manu, or God created Adam and Eve, you may say, history commenced. Therefore, for you, from the point of view of what you may have to learn from the Bhagavadgita, history may be regarded as a cosmic process. At one place in the Bhagavadgita, the great Master refers to Himself as the Time Spirit. Kālo’smi loka-kṣaya (Gita 11.32): “I am here before you as the world-transforming Time Spirit.”
Transmutation is the process of creation and destruction, and everyone is involved in this time process, which is basically mutation. Time never stands still for even a second. It undergoes transformation. It is a conflict between the present and the future. It absorbs the past into the present and runs forward into the future. There is a continuous activity taking place with every person and every thing involved in time. There is a confrontation of the three phases of the time process – past, present and future – something going, something coming, or we may say more prosaically, something dying and something being born. It is something like a war taking place. The history of humanity, which is the history of creation itself, is a story of events dying and being born that constitute the whole of history.
God speaks to man in the Bhagavadgita. It is not an individual Krishna that speaks to Arjuna. The symbology, the cosmicality, the inner suggestiveness that is immanent in the entire epic of the Mahabharata is something that you have to read between the lines. Poets do not merely write lines; great poets also write something between the lines. That is the grandeur of the poet. You may read Valmiki, Vyasa, Milton, and Shakespeare. They do not merely tell you their words, but they also tell you something which they have not spoken through the words; that is the spirit of the poetry. It is that which is between the lines, in between the words, that stirs you, stimulates you, enraptures you and causes you to read it again and again. The words, of course, are noted everywhere. Every word in the Mahabharata, every English word used by Shakespeare may be in the dictionary and you know what the meaning of the words are, so no words in Shakespeare can be regarded as unknown to you. But why is it that Shakespeare inspires you? It is not merely the words, but the adjustment of the words, the force that the words are expected to generate by their compilation in a particular manner. That is the poet’s power. Poetry inspires you much more than prose – especially great poetry, epic poetry. Vyasa’s Mahabharata, Valmiki’s Ramayana, or whatever it is, is some such great example which stimulates you from the heart. What is it that attracts you? It is something you yourself cannot know – a spirit that is operating behind the presentation. The poet’s imagination catches you. The battlefield of the Mahabharata, the war that was the occasion for the delivery of the Bhagavadgita, is therefore not merely a local event to which we are making reference.
So when you study the Gita, it is not enough if you merely read the words and understand them grammatically. In almost every good translation or commentary of the Gita, you will find exact grammatical meanings of each Sanskrit word are given; the same thing is arranged in a prose order, and you have the translation. This is good enough. Very few commentaries will go beyond the mere translation and the meaning of the words. There is an old saying that Sri Krishna alone knows what he said, Arjuna knows something of it, the great Suka Rishi knows it, Vyasa knows it, and nobody else can be said to know it entirely. The spirit of the cosmos manifested itself at the time of the delivery of the gospel. It was not the Yadava hero that spoke; the Universal Spirit manifested itself at one stroke, as if the whole world stood up and spoke. Can you imagine how you would receive the gospel if the entire universe stands before you and speaks to you from every corner? Every leaf in the tree speaks, and every atom vibrates and has a tongue before you, which will give you a message. Everywhere is gospel, the whole world coming from all sides. The entire space is speaking to you. What will you feel at that time? You will shudder from the roots of your being. This happened to Arjuna when the Cosmic Spirit manifested itself; his very roots shook. You can never imagine a condition in which the whole cosmos will speak to you. You have seen only one or two persons speaking to you, or ten people shouting at you. This is all that you know. But can you imagine the entire world speaking to you at one stroke – not merely this Earth, but the whole of creation speaking to you from every nook and corner? That circumstance was stirred up by the conditions described in the First Chapter of the Bhagavadgita.
As I mentioned, the conflict which is the battlefield, under which circumstance the Bhagavadgita was thought to be properly delivered, is connected with your very soul itself. It is an adhyatma-vidya; it is a spiritual teaching. It is not a war gospel, it is not a military science, it is not a science of sociology, it is not human psychology, it is not even cosmology – though all of this the Bhagavadgita is, because of its integrated nature. As a parent speaks to a child from every aspect of the well-being of the child, God speaks to man from the point of view of the welfare and well-being of creation as a whole. It is a message to me, to you, to all those that were, all those that are, and all those that are yet to be. It is a gospel of eternity. Eternally valid is this message. You cannot say that it was good only at that time when the war took place.