by Swami Krishnananda
As I mentioned, the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavadgita constitute, in a way, stages of the development of the spirit of man from levels of greater involvement through higher and higher levels of lesser involvement. The worst of involvements is the picture of the war, the scene of the battlefield that is presented in the First Chapter, the Mahabharata context. Nothing can be worse in this world than hatred, and war is the pinnacle of this attitude. You dislike a thing a hundred percent, and more than a hundred percent; then war takes place.
The dislike is the counterpart of what you call ‘like’ for certain things. It is not possible to have only one side of a coin, as you know. Every coin has two sides. Your dislike does not mean that you dislike everything. There is a like which is counter-correlated to that which you do not like. The reason for the development of this dual policy of the psyche, like and dislike, is the structure of the mind itself. Who created this peculiar structure of the mind that it should think only in a parochial manner, and not in a holistic way? It is not easy to understand merely by application of psychological logic, because logic of the mind, whatever be its precision, is again involved in this dual policy of the dichotomy between the subject and the object, as they are called philosophically.
What does logic do, generally? It assumes a difference between the subject and the predicate. “Rishikesh is a holy place.” Gramatically, this sentence has a noun as the subjective side and a predicate as the objective side. The word ‘is’, which is called a copula in a grammatical sense, joins the subjective side and the predicate, or the objective side, and then the sentence appears to be a complete picture. It tells you what Rishikesh is: it is a holy place. Okay. But for the purpose of understanding the meaning of this sentence, you have to dovetail these two aspects of the sentence, the subject and the predicate, which is achieved by the action of the verb, the link between the two parts of the sentence; so without a verb, there cannot be a sentence.
Why should there be a necessity to separate two parts and then bring them together into a whole? A thing that is separated is always separated. It cannot be joined together like pieces of broken glass. There is an artificial attempt made by human logic to bring about a reconciliation of the subjective side and the objective side.
I mentioned to you earlier that the world, including all created beings and humanity, stands before us as a large object, and the perceivers, any one of us, stand in the position of a subject. Our perception of anything in this world is an attempt to bring about a cessation of this so-called clash between the subjective and the objective sides. The world does not find it easy to reconcile itself with our views, whims and fancies. We have seen that the world does not always go with us easily, nor do we find it so easy to harmonise ourselves entirely with the ways of the world. We have our own ways, and the world seems to have its own ways, so there is a dual face that is at the back of this very picture of a harmonised perception of the world. Our knowledge of the world, our knowledge of anything that is external or objective, is this finally futile attempt in bringing about a real harmony between ourselves and the world outside. Two things cannot be harmonised, because they are two things. When we have already assumed that there are two things, bringing them together into a state of absolute harmony or unity is not going to be a successful endeavour.
This is the reason why, in the First Chapter of the Gita, Arjuna found himself in a quandary. He had a subjective attitude and an objective attitude towards the army that was arrayed. He saw the army of his opponents, which is another way of saying that he saw an enemy in the camp. He also saw, at the same time, blood relations in the midst of the army generals, footmen, etc. You like a thing and dislike a thing at the same time. You are at war with your own brother. Because you cannot reconcile yourself with your brother, you are at war with him; but because he is your brother, you also love him. So your relationship with anything in this world is a love and hate complex. Neither do you love a thing really, nor do you hate a thing really. ‘Really’ is the word that you have to underline. A one hundred percent liking for anything is not possible, because there is a rejection of certain facts and factors in that very act of yours. Nor is it possible to hate a thing one hundred percent, because there is an internal connection of that which you hate with your own self. There is an organismic relation of yourself with the structure of the world; therefore, wholesale hatred is not possible. But because of your organic connection with things in the structure of the universe, wholesale love is also not possible due to the factor of alienation of the object from yourself.
This is the reason, we may say, why Arjuna found himself in a difficult situation: to do or not to do – or, as Shakespeare put it, to be or not to be, etc. Arjuna found himself in a situation comparable with Hamlet. Some people say that Hamlet represents thought without action, and Othello represents action without thought. Arjuna found himself in this peculiar situation. He was torn to pieces. He went deep enough to find no ground on which to stand. He expresses his tragic condition: “My mind is reeling, my intellect is not functioning, my hairs stand on end, my skin is burning, my prana is agitated, I am drooping completely.” This is to say, he was drooping in all the five sheaths of his personality. The five sheaths are called Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya and Anandamaya Koshas. The physical body is called the Annamaya Kosha, the vital body is called the Pranamaya Kosha, the mental body is called the Manomaya Kosha, the intellectual body is called the Vijnanamaya Kosha, and the causal body is called the Anandamaya Kosha. All the five sheaths of the spirit of Arjuna were about to crack. They were giving way due to the sorrow in which he found himself. “Therefore, I do not know what my duty is in this predicament.” Though he said that it is not possible to clearly see what his duty is, he had already made a decision within himself not do to anything. Though he was not in a position to decide what to do, he seems to somehow have made an attempt to decide things for himself by saying, “Down with bows and arrows!”: visṛjya saśaraṁ cāpaṁ śokasaṁvignamānasaḥ (Gita 1.47). When you cannot understand a thing, you are not supposed to make a decision on it. A confused state of mind is unfit for making decisions of any kind. He knew that he was confused, and therefore he had no right to come to any conclusion whether to do or not to do.
We are facing the world, this universe of the Mahabharata scripture. The confrontation of the subjective individual with the objective universe is the Mahabharata war. The Bhagavadgita is a spiritual gospel. It is not a historical document, a story of what happened some years back. It is clothed in the garb of a story, as it were, and it appears to be a novel message, a didactic poem; but it is deeply spiritual. As I mentioned to you the other day, it is a gospel of eternity. It is an eternal message for all time, for all people, in every condition. Whatever be your mental condition at any time, you will find some verse or the other about your position.
Sri Krishna was there as Arjuna’s charioteer. This long harangue of Arjuna was received with dismay by Sri Krishna. “At this hour, when you are face to face with a difficulty, you say that there is no difficulty, and you come to the conclusion that the best thing is not to do anything. But you are a hero, and the problem has to be solved. The Mahabharata is a world problem, and when the problem raises itself before you, you are saying, ‘Inasmuch as I cannot understand the meaning of the problem, I will refuse to solve it. I will go by the idea that it does not exist at all.’ Is it all right? What do you say?” In one sentence Sri Krishna rebukes Arjuna and says, “How come this mood has overpowered you in this predicament? Very strange indeed!”
Then Arjuna again speaks, in the beginning of the Second Chapter. “Did I not explain myself properly? My love goes for my own elders on whose lap I sat, and who gave me education and taught me the art of archery. And my own brethren, kinsmen, are arrayed in front of me – the Kurus, whose blood also flows through my veins. What benefit can accrue to me by opposing my own kinsmen, my own well-wishers, my own elders?”
The answer of Sri Krishna is the Second Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, commencing from the eleventh verse. Aśocyān anvaśocas tvaṁ prajñāvādāṁś ca bhāṣase, gatāsūn agatāsūṁś ca nā ’nuśocanti paṇḍitāḥ (Gita 2.11): “You speak as if you know everything. Very wise words you have spoken before me, while actually these are unwise words. You are grieving over the consequence that may follow from engaging yourself in this vast conflict-ridden field. You are taking your stand on an opinion that you hold on the question of life and death itself – whether it is good to live or to die. You are trying to answer this question by your own parochial logic, your limited understanding.”
Birth and death are the scenes through which everything in the world passes. The process of evolution, so-called, is the process of perpetual dying and perpetually being born. Evolution is the requirement on the part of every entity in this world to cease to be what it is at this moment and be another thing after some time. There is a transmutation and a metempsychosis – a transmigration, you may say – of the special conditions under which an individual is living; and even when you appear to be whole and single, a solid individual like any one of us, every cell of your body is transmuting itself every moment. Medical men say that every seven years all the cells of the body renew themselves. So there is a complete cellular transformation of your personality three times by the time you reach twenty-one years, and then it is that you are supposed to be mature.
Apart from that, there is a metabolic process going on in the body. Anyone who knows physiology will know what metabolism is. The anabolic and catabolic processes combined are called metabolism. There is a continuous change taking place in this body. On account of the attachment of consciousness to these processes that are taking place from moment to moment, you are unable to know that these changes are occurring in your body. You now have become something else from the condition in which you were many years back as a little baby or a child. There is a difference between your babyhood long ago and your adulthood just now, but you do not perceive this difference because of the continuity of an undivided consciousness which you really are.
An iron rod is made up of little particles of iron. If it is heated until it becomes red hot, the particles cannot be seen; only the radiance, the red heat, is visible. In a similar manner, every limb of the body, from the fingertips to the toes, appears to be a completeness. The whole body feels the touch of a little toe or a little finger, due to the fact that there is a consciousness pervading this entire organism. If this divisibility of consciousness were not to be there, every part of the body would look disjointed. One hand would not know the existence of the other hand, and one limb would not cooperate with another organ of the body. But every little cell and part of the body, every little limb, goes on working in such system, method and harmony that you feel that you are one integrality, one whole. “I am coming,” you sometimes say. Who is coming? Is the nose coming, are the ears coming, are the legs coming or are the hands coming? Which is coming? It is a consciousness that is actually making this statement: “I am coming.” And the movement of the legs and the seeing of the eyes and other activities of the limbs are effects that follow from the order that is issued by this integral consciousness.
Actually, consciousness cannot die. The concept of the death of consciousness is itself invalid. You can imagine that you are not there, but you cannot imagine that you are not thinking in that fashion. The denial of a thing also implies a consciousness of the denial of that thing. You may abolish the consciousness of anything in this world, but you cannot abolish the consciousness of the fact that you are trying to abolish it. So there is some consciousness at the back of all things.
Sri Krishna starts his gospel by saying the Atman is immortal. Na tv evā ’haṁ jātu nā ’saṁ na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ (Gita 2.11): “We were never non-existent at any time – neither you nor I, nor these kinsmen called the Kauravas. They have always existed, and shall ever exist. Non-existence of the basic entity of individuality is unthinkable. The people you refer to, and yourself also, are actually embodiments of consciousness. Consciousness cannot be perishable; it cannot be temporal; it cannot pass through the process of evolution. That is to say, it cannot be one thing now and another thing afterwards.”
I mentioned that evolution implies the cessation of one condition of a thing and the occurrence of another condition of it, the rebirth into a new form of species, as it were, which is the characteristic of the individuality but not the characteristic of consciousness. If you imagine that consciousness also evolves, there will be a cessation of it sometime and a re-emergence of it afterwards. You cannot have a cessation of consciousness because even when you imagine consciousness has ceased, you are aware that you are aware of the cessation of consciousness. So consciousness never ceases. Inasmuch as it does not cease, it is eternal.
When I speak of consciousness, I am actually referring to the Sanskrit word ‘Atman’ because you may be able to understand the meaning of ‘consciousness’ much better than the implications of Atman. Atman, consciousness, cannot perish, because the idea of consciousness perishing is there at the back and will not permit you to even entertain such a thought. Consciousness has to be there at the back of even the attempt to abolish the idea of consciousness. This is one aspect of the matter. Consciousness cannot perish. It is not temporal. It will not die. It is always there. It transcends time. It is conscious of the process of time. Consciousness is conscious of the process of time; therefore, it transcends time. Consciousness is conscious of the extension of space; therefore, it transcends space. The conclusion is that consciousness is neither involved in space, nor is it involved in time; therefore, it is neither finite spatially nor finite temporally. It is infinite and eternal. If that is so, there can be only one consciousness. If there are two consciousnesses, there would be a necessity to bring about a rapprochement of the two states of consciousness, which imagines that there are two, three, or many consciousnesses. There would be the necessity to posit someone who is aware of the existence of multiple consciousnesses. Who is it that is saying that there are three consciousnesses or four consciousnesses? That person, that thing which is aware of three consciousnesses must be above the region of the activity of the three consciousnesses, so it should be only one consciousness appearing. You can imagine what the conclusion is, finally. Consciousness is one only. It is universal in its nature, eternal, non-spatial, non-temporal. That alone is, and nothing else can be.